Why not us? Titans competing for playoffs, building for future

It was a cold December 2014 afternoon at Nashville’s LP Field, and the Tennessee Titans (2-11) were taking on the equally terrible New York Jets (1-12). My father and I decided to attend this miserable game for two reasons: 1. I am a Titans fanatic and 2. the scalpers were offering tickets for $10 apiece.

Most of Nashville stayed at home, and who could blame them? In a vibrant city with a wealth of entertainment options, the struggling Titans were not worth the price of admission to some people. But the true fans never left.

Fast forward to 2016 and the Titans are 8-6 and tied for first place in the AFC South. With the team’s stunning, 19-17 victory over Kansas City last Sunday, the Titans have firmly cemented themselves into the playoff race and back into relevance in the Music City’s entertainment landscape.

To fully appreciate what Sunday’s victory meant we must revisit the Jets loss two years ago, when the Titans completely bottomed-out.

That day the upper deck was a ghost town so we moved down to the lower bowl to witness the Titans self-destruct yet again.

The team’s quarterback situation was a disaster. An injured-riddled Jake Locker struggled to get the offense going and he eventually succumbed to a shoulder injury. It would be his final NFL appearance. Rookie QB Zach Mettenberger was already out for the year with an injury, and his time in Tennessee would also become a disappointment.

Third-string QB Charlie Whitehurst, who is better known by his nickname ‘Clipboard Jesus’, tried and failed to lead the Titans to a comeback victory. No one was surprised, and frankly, no one really cared. Nashville had already moved on to basketball and hockey season.

The Titans also went on to lose to Jacksonville and Indianapolis to finish out the team’s worst season since moving to Tennessee in 1997. Ugh.

Thankfully, 2014 was a bad as things would get for the Titans. The beauty of the NFL is that the worst teams get the best draft picks. In theory, a few years of being horrible allows a team to go out and get top talent.

The 2015 NFL Draft brought exactly what the doctor ordered: MARCUS MARIOTA.

Oregon’s star quarterback. A Heisman Trophy winner. A terrific leader. What could be better? The team’s new franchise quarterback would surely be a success.

Longtime Titans fans knew better than to get too excited. Past first-round failures such as Locker, Kenny Britt, Vince Young, and Adam ‘Pacman’ Jones reminded Nashvillians that there are no guarantees.

The 2015 season proved to be yet another disappointment, but the firing of head coach Ken Wisenhunt did provide hope for the future. The Titans finished with a 3-13 record, making them the worst team in the entire league.

I became a Mari-G.O.A.T.-a believer late last season when the Titans thumped the Jaguars, 42-39. He threw for three touchdowns and also ran for a 87-yard score in the team’s third and final win of the season. It was only a matter of time before the rest of the league became Mariota believers, too.

This season has been a massive success, and it doesn’t even matter what happens the next two weeks. The Titans (8-6) have racked up wins against the Lions (9-5), Dolphins (9-5), Packers (8-6), Broncos (8-6), and Chiefs (10-4). All of those teams have a chance to make the playoffs.

The Titans are officially out of the dark ages. As a loyal fan, I feel vindicated for all those years of disappointment. Nashville has an NFL team that it should be excited about. Mariota seems to be the QB of the future. Tennessee has assembled play makers on both sides of the football.

Wouldn’t it be great for this team to make the playoffs this year? Absolutely. And it appears that they control their own destiny, needing wins over Jacksonville and Houston to win the AFC South.

But expecting them to do so would be asking too much. The Titans have come so far in such a short period of time. They need to keep building for the future, when they will have a chance to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

For now, loyal (and bandwagon) fans can revel in the Titans’ recent success and have hope for what’s next. Nashville-area residents will surely be glued to their televisions come Saturday, when the Titans travel to North Florida to take on the Jaguars.

All I want for Christmas is for the Titans to win their final two games. But considering where this team was two years ago, I’m also content with how things have gone this year.

Thank you, Marcus Mariota (and general manger Jon Robinson), for giving Nashville the NFL team it deserves. Now let’s go compete for a Super Bowl, whether it be this year or in the future. WHY NOT US?

 

*Editor’s note: Even as a Mariota believer, I had no idea success would happen this quickly. Because of that, I stand to lose $20 to a friend and have to jump into Lipscomb’s freezing fountain if the Titans continue to win. It’s a small price to pay for how awesome this season has been.

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