Titans' MO: Division woes, inability to finish

INDIANAPOLIS -- An NFL team faces a division rival six times a season.

Those are six premium games with huge influence on the easiest path to the playoffs and a division title.

Sunday, with a 22-14 loss to the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium, the Tennessee Titans dropped to 0-4 in the AFC South. Indianapolis, which will win the division, moved to 4-0.

Since Mike Munchak took over as the Titans coach, his team is 4-12 against Indianapolis (1-5), Houston (1-4) and Jacksonville (2-3). The franchise's divisional winning percentage should be the No. 1 thing Munchak has to explain to Tommy Smith, the man who's now the head of the ownership group, when the season ends and they discuss the coach's future.

Sure, the Titans should win rematches in Week 16 at Jacksonville and Week 17 against Houston. But the Jaguars and Texans are looking forward to those games, not fearing them.

And why should they?

When it comes to the AFC South, the Titans can talk of being close and finding ways to lose and the frustrations that come with such defeats and the opportunities ahead. What they cannot talk about is some pivotal moment that changes the franchise's course, because they have proven incapable of finding such a moment.

Munchak wasn't making the blunders on the field Sunday.

He was not part of the failure to recover even one of the Colts' three fumbles. He was not the quarterback who threw three picks. He wasn't the linebacker who shoved an opponent in the back for a 15-yard penalty that resulted in a field goal. He wasn't the safety letting an easy interception bounce off his chest.

He wasn't the guy with any answers for any of that stuff, either. He has to offer some, right? He has to do something that sparks change, something to turn the rudder.

Instead he's a patient plodder talking about being close and lacking answers. A team generally takes on the personality of its coach, and this group is hitting a bulls' eye given that target.

Narrow losses show up the same as the blowouts in the standings.

The average score in the Titans' 16 division games since 2011 has been, when we round the numbers, a 24-21 loss. Seven of the defeats have been by six points or fewer. (Some players skipped the math and lumped this 8-point loss into the same category.)

That illustrates just how bad this team is at closing games.

"Things go so right for you for so long and then all of a sudden in crunch time it derails," said linebacker Moise Fokou, who had one of the Titans' worst moments in this loss. "That's something we just have to continue to work at."

"The Tennessee Titans, we are our own worst enemy," safety Bernard Pollard said.

Jurrell Casey is the Titans' best defensive player and was more than the Colts interior offensive line could handle in this game. He had a sack, two tackles for a loss, three quarterback hits and consistently caused problems.

He was a third-round pick out of USC not long after Munchak was installed as the head coach.

"I just can't really understand what's the problem," Casey said. "Every game comes down to the wire. We lead in games and we let them slip away. It's the problem we've been having since Day One since I got here, and that's finishing. We have the right plays and system, the right fits, things like that. But when it comes down to nut-cutting time, we can't finish the games.

"And that's been our downfall since I've been here. Especially in divisional games, you've got to take your game to another notch. As of right now we're not getting the job done."

The Titans added nine free agents and a first-round draft pick they expected would have 16-game impact. Munchak sold them as the final piece for making a jump.

They've not been enough for the team to win in the division and the Titans, while better than 2012's 6-10 team, are not likely to finish with a significantly better record. Tennessee lost its starting quarterback to injury, but backup Ryan Fitzpatrick was supposed to be top-flight insurance. He is 1-4 as the starter, with three picks and a lost fumble in this defeat.

"Last year I think we only won one game in the division," running back Chris Johnson said. "We haven't won any yet [this year.] Since I've been here, that's just something that doesn't happen. When I first got here we always counted that we were going to win two with Houston and two in Jacksonville and then it was going to be a battle with the Colts when Peyton Manning was here.

"It's just a total turnaround. We have an opportunity to win the game, we're just not making plays at the end."

Munchak shared no revelation about what's wrong in the AFC South, not because he's withholding, but because he's got no revelation to share.

"That's where we're at," he said. "We're there, we can't finish the game, we make too many mistakes for whatever reason."

Dec. 1, 2013 in Indy wasn't a turning point for the Titans.

Perhaps, at least, it can be the point where Munchak retires "for whatever reason" and commits to replacing it with an actual solution.