Titans prove with Indy loss they aren’t there yet

Friday, November 25, 2016, Vol. 40, No. 48

Tennessee Titans running back DeMarco Murray is tackled by Indianapolis Colts safety Mike Adams during the second half of Sunday’s game in Indianapolis.

-- Ap Photo/Darron Cummings

Are we there yet? We took a family vacation to South Carolina several years ago and heard the old familiar question from the back seat after about five minutes on the road.

The excitement of the destination had been consumed by the dread of the journey.

And so it is with the Tennessee Titans. With the rapid rise of Marcus Mariota and the fact that the Titans are in a very mediocre and winnable division, it’s so easy to want the payoff of the team’s improvement right now, even though we know deep down this is still a flawed team.

Oh sure, there will be days like last week against Green Bay when everything comes together and the Titans look like a legitimate playoff contender – perhaps even the best team in the AFC South.

Then comes the crash, which this time occurred in Indianapolis when Andrew Luck once again flexed his muscles and flicked his mighty right arm. Suddenly the Titans were in a 21-0 hole, their shortcomings exposed yet again by Luck and the Colts.

In the end, the Colts’ win streak against the Titans had expanded to 11.

So what happened?

What happened is kind of like the vacation. The thought of the end result and fun and enjoyment of the desired destination doesn’t come without the journey.

Along the way, there are good things that have taken place for the Titans this year, most notably a resurgent running game, a solid offensive line and the rapid rise of Mariota, who looks to be knocking on the door of being a true franchise quarterback.

But for every round of “I Spy” or video game or movie that helps to pass the time on the trip, there were also plenty of pit stops and pitfalls that slowed our progress.

And so it is with the Titans rebuild.

Entering the season, expectations were modest at best.

If the Titans could win six or seven games, many people said, they would be satisfied with that progress.

But as Mariota and the team showed flashes of success and began to improve, suddenly finishing 6-10 was setting the bar too low. Thoughts of reaching the playoffs became the new standard, given a 5-5 record and a second-place standing entering Sunday’s game.

With the postseason now the new hope, Sunday’s annual implosion in Indy seemed a bit more disappointing than usual.

But it also served as a reminder that this Titans team, despite its improvement, is still in the midst of a major overhaul, even though the process has definitely been accelerated. There are still missing pieces, and the Colts – despite their own issues – have a knack for exploiting that.

Fast receivers ran away from the Titans’ secondary when the pass rush couldn’t disrupt Luck. Not enough players stepped up when two of Tennessee’s better offensive weapons – DeMarco Murray and Delanie Walker – were held in check due to the Colts’ game plan.

It all served as a not-so-gentle reminder that the Titans are, while improved, still a few pieces away from being a complete enough football team to be a bona fide contender, even though they still have a chance to make this year’s playoffs.

In other words, they’re not there just yet.

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com