The general impression is that Mike Mularkey has made a difference as Tennessee Titans head coach.
In the three games since Ken Whisenhunt was fired there have been personnel and scheme adjustments. They even one won game and came from behind in the fourth quarter to do it.
Whether or not any of that is (or will be) enough to convince franchise ownership not to make another change during the offseason is decidedly unclear, and of no interest to Mularkey, whose every move is being studied.
“I’m coaching like I coach the tight ends or I’m an offensive coordinator,” he said Monday. “This is how I coach. I’m not trying to do anything more than my job, and my job is obviously now to have a little bit more control over other areas, but this is not for any other reason but ‘this is how I coach.’
“I’ve got plenty to do other than worry about what’s going to happen after the year. I’ve got to worry about the ‘now,’ right now.”
There were two major factors that led to the selection of Mularkey as interim coach instead of senior assistant/defense Dick Lebeau, who also has been an NFL head coach. One was the fact that management wanted to give Mularkey, a finalist for the job in 2011, a chance to audition. The other was that no one wanted to mess with the defense, which is sixth in yards allowed per game and third in sacks, among other positive signs, in the first year with LeBeau on hand to complement second-year coordinator Ray Horton.
Both work in in Mularkey’s favor, particularly the second. After all, if continuity on the defense was a concern now it likely will be no different six weeks from now.
“You see on both sides of the ball when guys are able to grow in a scheme and have some level of consistency throughout the years they get better and better,” linebacker Derrick Morgan said. “They get more comfortable. I think you’re seeing evidence of that with our defense being in the second year of our scheme and how we’re playing.
“If change occurs, you hope they don’t really touch the defense but that’s just part of the business. Guys, when they come in, like to bring in their own guys.”
As of now, though, players have embraced the switch from Whisenhunt to Mularkey.
“I think things have been real different,” wide receiver Kendall Wright said. “Coach Mularkey has a different attitude about he wants things (run) around here. We’re all trying to take on that attitude.
“He has a tough mentality and he wants things done a certain way. So that’s what we’re going to do.”
But for how long?
(Photo: Getty Images)
Kendall Wright has not enjoyed his time warming the bench.
The Tennessee Titans fourth-year wide receiver would much rather be “a spark.”
He figures he will get his chance Sunday when the Titans host the Oakland Raiders (noon, CBS). After three weeks out of action with a knee injury he is optimistic about the possibility to get back in the lineup.
“It’s looking real good for Sunday,” Wright said Monday. “It’s been frustrating sitting out, obviously. But I’ve been in the training room every day – more than I would like to be in the training room because that’s not a place to be – but I got healthy and I’m still getting healthy. It’s looking real good for this weekend.
“I just want to be a spark, just be out there helping my teammates.”
Evan having missed three games, Wright is still the Titans’ second-leading receiver with 28 receptions for 343 yards. He is tied with tight end Delanie Walker for the team lead in touchdown receptions with three.
Plus, more than one-third of his yards (129 of them, to be exact) have come after the catch. That’s an average of 4.61 yards per reception. Among Titans wide receivers, Justin Hunter is next in that regard with an average of 1.5 yards after the catch.
“He’s shown you that he has the ability to score when he has the ball in his hands,” interim coach Mike Mularkey said. “… We need that. We need some explosive plays that aren’t just wide open but maybe breaking a tackle or making somebody miss and Kendall has that ability.”
Wright missed two games late last season and had 73 yards on four receptions in his first game back.
Oakland has the AFC’s worst pass defense with an average of 290.5 yards per game allowed but has allowed just nine touchdown passes in 10 games.
The Titans have been held without a touchdown pass in three of the last four games. The exception was New Orleans, when they had four.
“As long as I’m out here with these guys I’m feeling pretty good,” Wright said.
(Photo: Getty Images)
The Tennessee Titans already have used five different offensive line combinations this season.
Anyone ready for number six?
Interim coach Mike Mularkey said that coaches decided to use the extra preparation time afforded by the fact that they played last Thursday to look at possible alterations up front.
Rookies Quinton Spain and Jeremiah Poutasi (pictured) got some work at left guard Monday with Joe Looney at center. Looney started the previous three games at left guard and started one earlier contest at center. Poutasi, a third-round draft pick, started the first seven games at right tackle.
“[With] the extra day, seeing what they did when I go in there and look at the tape, we may do a little more of that Wednesday, when we put the pads on,” Mularkey said. “That will be another indicator for us if we need to do some things differently.”
Spain, who is 6-foot-4, 330 pounds, and Poutasi, who is 6-foot-5, 335 pounds, offer a little more size at left guard. Byron Bell (6-5, 340) started the season at that spot but moved to right tackle when coach Ken Whisenhunt was fired and Mularkey was elevated to interim coach.
Looney, at 6-foot-3, 315 pounds, has about 10 pounds on Andy Gallik, the rookie who has started four of the last five games at center but looks to be the odd man out in any potential shuffle this week.
“Andy … probably did not play his best game this last game, but Andy has really played well for us,” Mularkey said. “To be thrown into the situation he’s been thrown into as a rookie and –literally be the guy that’s making all the calls with a rookie quarterback, he’s done well. He just got beat a couple times this last game.
“We’re not trying to replace him, by any means. We’re trying to look at our best options against who we’re about the play, the Raiders.”
The Titans (2-8) host Oakland (4-6) noon Sunday at Nissan Stadium.
(Photo: Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
The Tennessee Titans can say it all they want. That doesn’t make it true.
They are not in the playoff race even if they are in the NFL’s worst division.
“We’re in no means of looking at this as it’s over, by any means,” interim coach Mike Mularkey said Friday. “Not in this division it’s not over. We have two wins, the first place team has four wins, and there are six games to go. So by no means are we thinking about altering the course.”
Thursday’s 19-13 loss at Jacksonville effectively wiped out whatever chances the Titans did have to end their current six-year playoff drought.
At 2-8, they’re at least two games behind the other three teams in the division. Even if they get on a roll and somehow manage to finish 7-9 or 8-8 they’re not going to win the division outright, which means they’re going to need to win a tiebreaker. And they’re not going to win a tiebreaker.
One look at the NFL’s criteria to break a tie among division teams shows just how deep a hole Tennessee really has dug for itself.
• Head-to-head: The Titans already have lost to each of the other three AFC South teams. That means the best they can do is split with each and, thus, there is no chance to win this tiebreaker.
• Record within the division: The losses to all three AFC South opponents constitute the whole of Tennessee’s division schedule thus far. Indianapolis is 3-0, Houston is 2-1 and Jacksonville is 1-2. In fact, the Titans are one of three AFC teams without a division win and one of the other two is San Diego, which still has four games against the AFC West.
• Record against common opponents: If they can make it to this point the Titans actually have a shot. They went 2-2 against the NFC South. The other three teams in the division are a combined 1-6. If other games balance out, those are the ones that could tip the scales in Tennessee’s favor.
• Record against the conference: Tennessee (0-6) is the only AFC team that does not have at least one win against another AFC team. Indianapolis (4-3), Houston (4-3) and Jacksonville (4-4) are all .500 or better. If it gets to this point, the Titans are done for sure.
As it stands right now, the Titans are one of three teams tied for the AFC’s worst record (Cleveland and San Diego are the others). If you were to break that tie (for purposes of draft order, perhaps), Tennessee is last and a possibility for the first overall pick in the draft (the NFC's worst teams are 3-7). It is a long way from there – too long, to be precise – from there to the postseason.
“We’re pretty darn good, we’ve proven that,” Mularkey said. “We’ve proven it through the whole year, not just the last three games. We’ve proven we have a chance, regardless of who’s playing. Where we are with our roster, where we are with injuries, that’s irrelevant. When we are efficient and playing with the effort that we’re playing with, we are a good football team.
“I’m not going to change the message that I’ve been passing. I never have in my 21 years of coaching, so that’s not changing. We do have proof that we are a good football team, and we have to just finish the games.”
Whatever his message, they also have to realize that their season will finish when they play the Indianapolis Colts on Jan. 3 – the final day of the regular season.
Rico Richardson almost had quite a story to tell.
The Tennessee Titans wide receiver, who never has caught a pass in the NFL and has been cut four times by three teams in three years, was the primary target on the final play of Thursday’s 19-13 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
With no timeouts and 2:19 remaining, the Titans drove 62 yards to the Jacksonville 23, where they spiked the ball to stop the clock with five seconds remaining. That left them with one play to try to score the game-winning touchdown. Quarterback Marcus Mariota was sacked before he ever delivered a pass, which was designed to go to Richardson.
“We had inside receivers running through hopefully gathering a coverage for in-cuts in the end zone,” interim coach Mike Mularkey said. “It would have been to Rico.”
The Titans cut Richardson for the second time in September, just prior to the start of the regular season. He signed on to the practice squad and finally was promoted to the active roster on Oct. 25. He played sparingly in the previous four games. Similarly, he spent most of last season on the practice squad before he appeared in two late contests.
In six career appearances, the undrafted free agent out of Jackson State had five passes thrown his way, none of which resulted in receptions.
“It was the play we had and couldn’t change the personnel because of the clock,” Mularkey said.
What a coming out party it would have been had that last pass actually come to him and he caught it and scored the winning touchdown. For a franchise short on wide receivers and a fan base longing for something to celebrate, it would instantly have pulled him out of the anonymity in which he has toiled.
“Every single opportunity we have, we try to score,” Mariota said. “We had an opportunity at the end to just try to throw it up there and give the guys a chance. We were basically trying to get everybody out in the end zone.
“ … I have to do a better job of giving those guys a shot.”
Alas, Richardson never got his chance. There’s no telling if he’ll ever get another.
Brian Orakpo is halfway there, which is farther than anyone else has gotten.
Since 1999, when Jevon Kearse registered a sack in eight straight games as a rookie, the only person who even came close to matching that run was Kearse himself. Until now.
Outside linebacker Brian Orakpo made it four straight games with a sack during Thursday’s 19-13 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. That equals the third-longest stretch during the Titans era (1999-present) and exceeds those of any player other than Kearse. There have been eight three-game streaks, including from Kearse (2001), Kyle Vanden Bosch (2007) and Jurrell Casey (2013).
A look at the most consecutive games with a sack by a Tennessee Titans player (1999-present):
8 – Jevon Kearse (1999)
6 – Jevon Kearse (2003)
4 – Brian Orakpo (2015)
4 – Jevon Kearse (2000)
Four games matches the longest streak of Orakpo’s career. He had three and a half sacks during a four-game run as a rookie in 2009 and had five and a half sacks in a four-game stretch of 2013.
Thursday’s sack was his fifth in the last four games. He dropped Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles for a nine-yard loss in the final minute of the first half Thursday and forced Jacksonville to settle for a game-tying field goal.
Orakpo leads the Titans with seven sacks, which is half a sack more than Derrick Morgan had in 2014, when he was the Titans’ leader in that regard. In fact, only one player has finished with more in the past four seasons (Casey had 10 and a half in 2013).
(Photo: Getty Images)
It is amazing how quickly things can go wrong for a team that is not accustomed (equipped maybe?) to victories.
Through the first three quarters of Thursday’s prime time game at Jacksonville, the Tennessee Titans (2-8) made a pair of goal line stands, did not allow a touchdown and did enough to build a lead.
Then, in the span of 1:19 late in the fourth quarter, they allowed a long punt return that set up the Jaguars’ go-ahead touchdown and committed their only turnover — a fumble by tight end Phillip Supernaw — that set up a Jacksonville field goal.
A last-chance drive got as far as the Jaguars’ 23 before quarterback Marcus Mariota was sacked (pictured) and time expired.
A look at some of the other meaningful performances and moments from the contest:
TITANS PLAYER OF THE GAME
Delanie Walker, tight end
He led the Titans with eight receptions for 109 yards was a much-needed downfield threat with wide receivers Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter out with injuries.
Walker accounted for four of the Titans’ six longest gains of the contest, including a 29-yard reception in the second quarter. Five of his receptions went for first downs and he was effective in most any situation with three catches on first down, two on second down and three on third down.
It was his first 100-yard game of the season and his highest reception total since Week 2 of 2014.
• Brian Orakpo: He extended to four his streak of consecutive games with a sack. That’s the longest streak by a Tennessee player not named Jevon Kearse during the Titans era (1999-present). He also forced a fumble and broke up a pass.
• Antonio Andrews, RB: He had 78 rushing yards on 15 carries. His 5.2 yards-per-carry average was the best of his career in a game with at least 15 rushes and his 26-yard run on the final play of the third quarter made it the third game in the last four he had a run of more than 20 yards.
• Coty Sensabaugh, CB: He displayed sure tackling on the perimeter with a team-high six tackles (all unassisted). He also broke up a pass.
Rashad Greene’s 63-yard punt return with 3:49 to play
Ahead by four (13-9) the Titans were forced to punt when Delanie Walker was tackled just shy of a first down on third-and-7 from their own 18. Greene, who missed the previous seven games while on injured reserve-designated for return, got to the Tennessee 5 before he was forced out of bounds and on the very next snap the Jaguars scored their only touchdown.
It was Jacksonville’s longest punt return of the season and breathed new life into a Jacksonville offense that had gone punt, turnover, punt on its previous three possessions.
• Mariota’s 23-yard touchdown run with 5:22 to play in the third quarter: It was the rookie quarterback’s longest run of the season and the longest touchdown run by any NFL quarterback this season – and it gave the Titans a four-point lead, at the time the largest either team had.
• Zach Brown’s interception with 10:55 to play: After a missed Titans’ field goal attempt, the Jaguars quickly drove to Tennessee’s 23 and had a chance regain the lead with a touchdown. Brown promptly ended that threat.
• Avery Williamson tackles T.J. Yeldon for no gain on third-and-1 from the Titans’ 19 with 2:21 to play: It forced the Jaguars to kick a field goal, which kept the deficit at one score (six points) and kept alive hopes for a victory.
THEY SAID IT
• “Those last minutes of the game we have to find a way to put it together and win.” – linebacker Wesley Woodyard.
• “(The defense) has been impressive – the goal line, the red zone, the turnovers. … They have played complete football the whole year.” – interim coach Mike Mularkey, on the play of the defense.
• “We’ve been in a lot of games, lost a lot of close ones. We just have to be able to finish. This team works hard, you can feel the frustration, but we can’t hang our heads. We have a lot of games left.” – Mariota, on another defeat.
Regardless of how bad the AFC South is or turns out to be, the Titans can disabuse themselves of the notion that they have a chance to win it. Their focus for the final six games needs to be on the future – development of younger players and continued evaluation of Mularkey.
With one win in three games Mularkey has not done enough to secure the job for next season and beyond but he also has not shown that the team must look elsewhere. It’s clear he has a plan and he has been successful in presenting it to the players in a way they understand. It’s just not clear whether that plan will work for the long haul.
(Photo: Getty Images)
They have just five wins between them but the Tennessee Titans (2-7) and Jacksonville Jaguars (3-6) will be something to see when they play Thursday in Jacksonville (7:25 p.m., NFL Network).
The teams will be adorned in “color rush” uniforms, which offer a decidedly modern take on the franchise’s traditional colors.
The look might actually keep people from looking away from a matchup of teams that are 25th (Jacksonville) and 28th (Tennessee) in turnover ratio this year. Neither of them has been in the playoffs since the last time the Titans went (2008) and between them they have managed one winning season in the last six.
Three reasons to believe the Titans will win Thursday
• Pass it on: Jacksonville has one of the NFL’s worst pass defenses (24th, 268.4 yards-per-game allowed) and quarterback Marcus Mariota has done pretty well against the defenses he’s faced that are worse against the pass, Cleveland, Indianapolis and New Orleans. He threw a combined eight touchdown passes with two interceptions in those contests.
• In their sights: Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles has been sacked 28 times, more than all but two NFL quarterbacks this season, including 20 times in the last five games. In the last three games Tennessee’s defense has recorded – in order – three, four and five sacks, which raises intriguing possibilities for this game. With 27 sacks on the season, the Titans are fifth in the league.
• Move the chains: Jacksonville has the league’s second-worst third-down defense. Opponents have converted 46.2 percent of the time, including 50 percent or better in three games. Eight of the Jaguars’ nine opponents have had at least five third-down conversions. In the seven games Mariota has played, the Titans have averaged more than 4.5 conversions so the opportunity for the offense to stay on the field is there.
Three reasons to believe the Titans won’t win Thursday
• There’s a catch: Kendall Wright will miss a third straight game with an ankle injury and Justin Hunter is on injured reserve. Between them, they have accounted for 50 of the 79 receptions by Titans wide receivers this season. Due to their absence, Tre McBride was promoted from the practice squad and Andrew Turzilli, a rookie free agent who was in training camp, was brought back.
• Double trouble: No team has two players with at least 700 yards receiving but Jacksonville is comes closest. Allen Robinson (pictured) is ninth in the NFL with 758 receiving yards and Allen Hurns has 697. Among the NFL’s top 20 in receiving yards, Hurns is first in yards per catch (17.0) and Robinson is second (16.8). Tennessee’s defense has muddled through recent weeks despite the fact that its cornerbacks have been deleted but this is some kind of challenge.
• Division woes: It might be the NFL’s worst division, but the AFC South has been a big problem for the Titans. They are 0-2 against intra-division games this season and have lost six straight dating back to 2014. That stretch includes a an eight-point defeat (21-13) in their last visit to Jacksonville, which was last December.
The bottom line
Neither team scares anyone at the moment because each has holes that can be exploited.
If the Jaguars can protect quarterback Blake Bortles it will be a long night for the Titans’ secondary. If Jacksonville’s offensive line can’t hold back Tennessee’s pass rush it will be a long night for Bortles. Similarly, Jacksonville has the better running game but should have a harder time running the ball against Tennessee’s defense.
What it means is that there will be big plays in this game. The team that makes the most will win – and the fact that the Jaguars are at home in a prime time game with the teams in special uniforms makes them more likely to produce the big moments.
(Photo: Getty Images)
The Tennessee Titans have been through worse (when they were the Houston Oilers, that is). The Jacksonville Jaguars have not.
Jacksonville has missed the playoffs each of the last seven seasons, which is the longest streak in its relatively brief history. One of the NFL’s newest franchises made it to the postseason in four of its first five years, capped by a loss to the Titans in the 1999 AFC championship game. A five-year run of futility followed, but even that must not seem so bad at present.
The Titans have endured six years since their last playoff appearance, twice as long as any previous drought during their Tennessee tenure and one shy of tying the franchise mark set in the 1970s.
So even though they represent the bottom half of the AFC South, these teams continue to talk about playoff possibilities as part of the build-up for their meeting Thursday in Jacksonville (7:25 p.m., NFL Network). Each is desperate to make its return and, given that Indianapolis and Houston are each 4-5, the winner will remain in contention for the division title.
A look at some other numbers of note in relation to this contest:
1 – rushing touchdown by Jacksonville in its first nine games. Rookie running back T.J. Yeldon got into the end zone three weeks ago against Buffalo and that has been it for the Jaguars. Every other team in the league has at least two rushing touchdowns.
5 – straight games in which the Jaguars have scored 20 points or more. That is their longest such streak since Oct-Nov., 2010, when they also had a five-game streak during which they went 3-2. That one ended against Tennessee, although they won the game 17-6 at Nissan Stadium. Jacksonville is 2-3 during its current run of 20-plus games.
6 – games since the last time the Titans scored a rushing and a passing touchdown in the same contest. It began against Buffalo when they had just one rushing touchdown. Then they had one passing touchdown each against Miami and Atlanta, didn’t get to the end zone against Houston and scored four times on passes at New Orleans. Their only touchdown last Sunday against Carolina was on the ground.
7 – straight games in which Jacksonville wide receiver Allen Hurns (pictured) has caught a touchdown pass. The second-year wide receiver is tied with the likes of Houston’s De’Andre Hopkins and Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald for fourth in the league with seven touchdown receptions on the season. He had six in his first 18 career games.
9 – rushing touchdowns allowed by the Titans. That is tied for the most in the AFC. No coincidentally, four of the five teams that share the league lead in rushing touchdowns with 11 have played Tennessee this season (Carolina, New Orleans, Atlanta and Buffalo). The lone exception is Kansas City.
31 – first-quarter points by the Titans in their two victories. They scored 21 in the first 15 minutes at Tampa Bay and 10 in the opening period at New Orleans. In their seven losses they have scored just 13 first-quarter points. Last Sunday was the first time this season they scored a touchdown in the first quarter but lost. The last time that happened was Dec. 28, 2014 – at Jacksonville.
(Photo: Getty Images)
The Jacksonville Jaguars’ decision to go in a different direction did not turn things around for them.
Three years ago they hired Mike Mularkey to be their head coach after four straight seasons without a postseason appearance. A year later they replaced Mularkey with current coach Gus Bradley, who has gone 10-31 in two-plus seasons and has not gotten that team anywhere near a playoff berth.
Having split his first two games since that move Mularkey is 17-33 (no playoff appearances) in his own right as an NFL head coach, including 2-14 in his one season at Jacksonville.
“I was in a situation where a new owner came in, hired a new general manager, and they wanted to go in a different direction,” Mularkey said Monday. “But I just wish we had more time. I was very proud, I know we won two games, but I felt like, and I think our team felt that we had a chance to win every time we stepped on the field. That’s what’s important, is that they think they have a chance.
“… But yeah, I would have liked to have had some more time with (former Jacksonville Jaguars General Manager) Gene (Smith) and build a better roster.”
Five of that season’s defeats were by a touchdown or less.
One of the more lopsided losses (34-18) was to the Buffalo Bills, a team he led for two seasons (2004-05) in his only other opportunity as an NFL head coach. He did not gain a measure of revenge in that instance and insists he is not looking for any in his return to Jacksonville.
“I like winning all of them, to be honest with you,” Mularkey said. “I just want these guys to win. That’s what is important to me. Obviously, we talked about two different feelings on two different weekends, and I know which one I certainly like better.
“It has nothing to do with who we’re playing. It’s a matter of winning.”
If nothing else, the Jaguars (3-6) currently are one game up on the Titans (2-7) in the AFC South as those teams prepare to face one another Thursday at Jacksonville. That’s not saying much, though, given things with Tennessee have been so bad that coach Ken Whisenhunt was fired two weeks ago and Mularkey was elevated to interim coach.
“I think teams that go through it like we’re going through it right now are building to do enough good things at critical times that I think will get you over the hump,” Bradley said. “That’s what we’re trying to figure out right now and that consistency in doing that.”
Much like they were under Mularkey.
(Photo: Getty Images)
POSTDATA: WARRANTY DEEDS