The Titans ultimately progressed to the spot most of us expected entering the season: a single-win playoff debut. The path taken was winding, confusing, disappointing and exciting at different points.
Say what you will about the refs’ handling of important calls early in the game, but the Titans simply weren’t quite ready—experience wise or roster wise—to compete with the greatest football organization to ever grace the turf. An important point to remember: 11 of Tennessee’s 2017 contributors were three years or fewer into their professional careers.
It’d be an exaggeration to say that any of us had high hopes for this match-up. We saw early on that, especially with a healthy Jack Conklin, we weren’t completely overpowered. However, the fragile, razor-thin line the Titans have walked all year came back to haunt them as soon as a questionable offensive pass interference call on Eric Decker and an unusual reversal of ruling on a false start/offsides call set the proverbial snowball in motion.
2018 won’t be any easier, and, frankly, it’s just another year in the growth cycle of this team. I would bet a large portion of my yearly income that, regardless of the offensive coordinator/head coach next season, Marcus Mariota will rebound statistically. No can deny that his 2017 didn’t go as hoped or expected, but I never saw a wavering in his high-level ability; the kid is going to be universally recognized as special someday. Feel free to bookmark this article and throw it back in my face if my prediction doesn’t come true. We finally saw what Corey Davis can and will be as a #1 receiver in the pros. His performance tonight should encourage sighs of relief about his fulfillment of his draft status.
The Titans should absolutely make a move at offensive coordinator this offseason, in my opinion. I get that Mike Mularkey has a target on his back, given his mediocre track record overall as a head coach, and the mockable labeling of his offensive scheme as “Exotic Smashmouth”. Through all the ups and downs this year, in the end, I believe Mike Mularkey is a quality head coach, just not a contemporary offensive mind. One aspect of the Patriots’ lengthy success I feel is often overlooked: after a certain point early in their reign, Bill Belichick stepped back and let his coordinators scheme week to week. He simply stood, and continues to stand, in as the cultural and emotional leader of their team. Mike Mularkey won’t ever be Bill Belichick, but I believe he can oversee those aspects of the Titans successfully. He should not be relied upon to make the next offensive coordinator hire on his own; GM Jon Robinson should recognize his opportunity to steer the franchise’s fate in his direction, and simply consult with Mularkey to find a mutual fit.
This roster still needs time to mature. If you’re a Titans’ fan, and you’re not excited about the composite potential of Mariota, Henry, Conklin, Spain, Davis, Taylor, Smith, Johnson, Brown, Jackson, and Byard, in my opinion, you’re denying the budding seed that has been planted by Jon Robinson at Saint Baptist Sports Park. Not all those players will capitalize on their potential, but some will. New players with similar potential will be added within 6 months, as well as for many years into the future.
In a certain enigmatic way, I’m ready for this season to be over. It would have been historically memorable if the Titans had managed to pull off one for the ages and advanced into the AFC Championship game. Still, no matter the team’s performance in the playoffs, the same questions were going to exist heading into next year. We and the team have a lot to be proud of, a lot to rue about, a lot to look forward to, and for them, a lot of work to do.
Life isn’t fair. It’s never easy or simple. It only takes time, and often enough what materializes isn’t fully within anyone’s control. Enjoy and accept both the positives and negatives of this season. We root for this team because the highs lift us up and the lows make us want more.
Congratulations, 2017 Titans, you found a way to leave us all wondering, lingering, hoping. I, for one, am going to savor this taste in my mouth and keep my head held up high knowing that the best is yet to come.