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VOL. 41 | NO. 1 | Friday, January 6, 2017

Ode to joy: Football becomes fun again for Titans

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Kicker Ryan Succop isn’t the only Titan celebrating. His team missed the playoffs, but apparently had a great time in the process.

-- Ap Photo/James Kenney

Optimism, joy and even satisfaction – emotions largely missing for several seasons – were evident as the Tennessee Titans closed out the 2016 season and emptied their lockers at St. Thomas Sports Park.

Yes, there was disappointment over failing to make the playoffs, even as a number of Titans players maintained (and arguably so) that they were the best team in the AFC South this season.

Certainly, before Marcus Mariota went down with his leg injury, the 9-7 Titans were regarded as the team from the division most likely to do some damage in the playoffs.

And victories against five of the 12 teams in the postseason is further proof that the Titans are back on even footing in the NFL after being deep into the abyss for several seasons.

Football has become fun again for Titans players. Granted, some of that was a by-product of the Titans’ winning nine games and being in thick of the playoff chase well into December.

By contrast, Tennessee was largely out of the playoff picture by Halloween during the previous two seasons and probably couldn’t wait for the dreariness of those campaigns to come to a merciful end.

Newcomer DeMarco Murray, who had his struggles last year in Philadelphia, was among those who found their zest for football again. Murray even went so far as to say it was the most enjoyable season he has had in his six-year NFL career – even topping what he did with the Dallas Cowboys.

“I enjoy football,” says Murray, who led the AFC and was third in the NFL this season with 1,287 rushing yards despite playing on a bad foot for much of the second half of the season. “I enjoy coming to work every day. This is probably the most fun year. I probably don’t say as much or don’t show it, but this has been a hell of a year from a personality standpoint.

“Just coming in and playing with them and working out with them on a daily basis, with the coaching staff, the organization as a whole. It’s been a great year for me. I’ve enjoyed this year more than I ever have.”

Linebacker Avery Williamson, who endured the misery of the Titans’ 5-27 record in his first two professional seasons, says the season went by too fast – unlike years past.

“It definitely did (fly by). Once you get into it, you start having fun,” Williamson says. “I feel like the more fun you have, the faster it goes.

“You look up and it’s week 12 and you’ve got four games. I enjoyed it. It was the most fun I’ve had probably since high school.”

Coach Mike Mularkey says players finding joy in their work and the tasks laid before them is no accident.

“I think it’s the way we did things,” Mularkey says. “I’ll have a hard time thinking anybody can out-work us, and what we did in training camp, but I think the way we do things, the way it was structured, it was a fun environment to come to work to.

“You guys know, if you like what you’re doing and you like what’s going on, you like coming in that front door and you’re going to get production when they step out on the field.”

But it was more than just having fun.

Taylor Lewan says it was Mularkey setting goals and making promises and then seeing those ideas to fruition that made the Titans’ season special.

“I think the best thing Mike Mularkey did was say we were gonna do something and did it,” Lewan offered. “He said we were gonna run the ball and we did it. He said we were gonna set up the pass and we set up the pass.

“He just pushed us to be exactly what he said we were gonna be. He said we were gonna do this and he followed up with it. He made a promise and he kept it.

“When you see a guy in a league like this where people don’t always keep their promises. To have that is pretty refreshing. And I think the players fell in.”

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