Unpredictable? That means Titans fit in with rest of NFL

Friday, December 14, 2018, Vol. 42, No. 50

What have we learned about the Tennessee Titans as the 2018 regular season winds down to its final three games?

We have learned their best can be very, very impressive, as evidenced by their wins against three current division leaders – Patriots, Cowboys and Texans – with each capable of making a deep playoff run. The Titans also were within a blown two-point conversion of defeating the Chargers, who also fit that category.

But we have also seen the Titans at their worst, struggling against the dregs of the NFL. They lost at Buffalo and very nearly lost at home to the Jets.

So, with 7-6 record in 13 games, all that can really be said about the Titans is they are consistently inconsistent.

Even head coach Mike Vrabel admits he doesn’t necessarily have an answer for why his club has been so up and down this season.

“I wish I could answer that and say, ‘Oh yeah, I know exactly when that is going to happen.’ I try to look back, I think that the schedule, and the practice, and the meetings – there’s consistency there. It’s not like it’s a grab bag, and, ‘Hey, let’s try this, this week,’” Vrabel adds.

“I’m not really sure. I think that there has been games – like I felt like we were prepared and ready to go in Houston. It just didn’t work out that way. They played better than we did for most of the game. We came out kind of how we needed to come out but couldn’t sustain. Got behind with the Jets and kept battling.

“We’ve found ways to win games in different ways. I don’t know if that’s a strength or a weakness, but you can’t ever predict how the game is going to go. You’d like to think, ‘Hey, I know exactly how this thing is going to play out,’ but it doesn’t always go that way.”

True enough. But taking a step back, the Titans are fairly typical of today’s NFL.

There are a handful of teams that look dominant – the Saints, Rams and Chiefs come to mind. And there are about a half dozen teams that are simply awful, even though they occasionally take a bite out of a contender – like the Bills did to the Titans earlier this season.

And then there are all those teams in the middle, of which the Titans are certainly one. They are good enough on their best days to beat any team and suspect enough on bad days to lose to anyone.

And that’s the way the NFL wants it. Through Sunday night here in mid-December, only three teams have punched their ticket for the postseason, and only six of 32 teams have been eliminated.

Parity is so prevalent that even the Titans’ opponent for this week – the 5-8 New York Giants – still have a playoff pulse. As do the 4-9 Atlanta Falcons, for that matter.

But back to the Titans.

Tennessee sits in ninth place, tied with four other teams at 7-6 and – fittingly enough – with head-to-head loses to all three. And while the tiebreaker scenarios certainly don’t work in the Titans’ favor because of that, making the playoffs in this topsy-turvy season isn’t all that far-fetched, provided Tennessee can do just one thing that has eluded them all season long.

They must play with enough consistency to finish with wins against the Giants, Redskins and Colts.

Quarterback Marcus Mariota, who has had his own issues with consistency this season, didn’t even want to address the playoff scenario, given how things have transpired thus far this season.

“For me, I hate to even get in that direction,” he says. “I think this group is learning, and we’re growing. No matter what, it’s all a process.

“You can’t get too high with the highs and you can’t get too low with the lows. If we stay balanced and we play complementary football, we have a chance. It all depends week to week and day to day while just focusing on what we can take care of right now.”

Even Vrabel acknowledges the Titans don’t have room for any more slip-ups.

“I think that our margin for error is pretty thin to get to where we ultimately want to get to, that’s making the playoffs. We just have to understand the margin for error is thin, that goes for all of us,” Vrabel explains.

“Me, and the players and the coaches. Just not getting complacent – not that I thought we were. If I thought we were, I would have tried to fix it. Every week is a challenge, whether you’ve won three or four in a row, or whether you’ve lost a few in a row.

“Every week is a new week, it’s a new challenge, and we have to approach it that way, and hopefully we will.”