By David Climer | The Tennessean
Twelve games in, harsh reality has hit home for the Titans.
At 4-8, this team is headed nowhere.
"It's difficult. It's frustrating," cornerback Jason McCourty said. "This is my fourth year here, and I have yet to play in a playoff game."
I guess there's always next year.
That's what this franchise has come to. As usual, the Titans will spend December attempting to put lipstick on a pig of a season by winning a game or two and supposedly building momentum for next year.
"We want to finish strong, get to 8-8 and get ready for next year," cornerback Alterraun Verner said.
Sorry but it doesn't work that way in the NFL. The Titans won their final two games in 2011. The carryover: They started this season 1-4.
As for the here and now, the Titans will try to make the best of a bad situation. Their ceiling is 8-8. But based on the way the Titans played on Sunday in a 24-10 loss to Houston, the possibility of a four-game winning streak is remote, at best.
All things considered, it was a bad start to what could be a December referendum on the Titans. Jobs are on the line -- or at least they should be. It's never a good sign when owner Bud Adams vacates his suite long before the end of the game.
You wonder if or when Bud will lose patience with the way things are headed. At age 89 and with a stated goal of getting back to the Super Bowl, he can't be encouraged by a game like this or a season on the blink.
If Mike Munchak can't turn things around, should he return for a third season as head coach?
With offensive coordinator Chris Palmer fired last week, what is the status of defensive coordinator Jerry Gray?
Why does the front office continue to get a pass?
And does this roster really have enough talent to make a playoff run next season and beyond?
Face it: The Titans are just another team. Since their last playoff berth in 2008, they are just 27-33. They are 0-4 against AFC South competition this season.
Optimists will point out that the Titans didn't fold after trailing 21-3 at halftime. They actually outscored Houston 7-3 in the second half and had a chance to make it a one-score game early in the fourth quarter.
But as is usually the case with this team, the Titans couldn't make a play when it really mattered. Trailing 24-10 and facing fourth-and-3 at the Houston 7, Jake Locker fumbled as he was being sacked.
It was that kind of day for Locker. He threw three interceptions and fumbled twice. His passer rating was a weak 49.2 -- but that was up dramatically from 12.7 at halftime.
But it wasn't like Locker got a lot of help. Because of injuries, he operated behind a patchwork offensive line. His receivers took turns dropping passes.
"We got off to a slow start and that puts more pressure on you to make plays," said rookie wide receiver Kendall Wright, who had six catches for 78 yards but also had a key drop. "We've just got to do a better job of making plays and putting points on the board."
If nothing else, Locker's development is worth watching down the stretch of an otherwise forgettable season. If he can prove he is a true franchise quarterback the Titans can build around, it provides some degree of hope that better days are ahead.
You can question Locker's judgment and accuracy but there is no doubting his courage. He took some vicious shots from the Houston defense and kept playing.
"Jake's a real tough kid," said center Fernando Velasco, who was forced to play one series at right tackle thanks to the rash of injuries on the offensive line. "One of the things I love about him is that he gets sacked or throws a pick, he comes back to the huddle like he just threw an 80-yard touchdown pass.
"That's the swagger he has. That's the heart he's got. Everybody can rally around him in the huddle."
And at this point, the Titans need a rallying point. The playoffs are far out of reach. They're playing for pride and paychecks.
And future employment.
David Climer's columns appear on Wednesday, Friday, Sunday and Monday. Reach him at 615-259-8015 or firstname.lastname@example.org.