Despite adding a twist to the plot, Sunday's Titan's football game followed a familiar story line.
Commentary by David Climer, The Tennessean
An hour or so before kickoff, new boss Tommy Smith offered what amounted to a State Of The Titans address.
He told the fans he feels their pain. He promised things are going to get better. He vowed to get back to winning football.
Then the Titans went out and did what they always seem to do:
Granted, it was an interesting variation on the losing theme. The Titans came back from a 17-point deficit with 6:13 remaining in regulation to force overtime. But no matter how you dress it up, the result was the same: the eighth loss in the past 10 games.
"We've improved just enough that we're not making plays at the end and we're losing close games," offensive tackle Michael Roos said. "That's the NFL. Every week, games go right down to the very end, and the same teams seem to find a way to win."
Likewise, the same teams seem to find a way to lose. The Titans fit into that category.
With two games remaining in this forgettable season, only four teams in the AFC have worse records than the Titans. And two of them, Jacksonville and Houston, remain on the Titans' schedule.
Given this backdrop, Smith is on the clock. Since taking over as president and CEO after the death of franchise founder Bud Adams on Oct. 21, Smith has some tough decisions to make, including whether or not to bring Mike Munchak back for a fourth season as coach. Smith knows talk is cheap. Words only go so far. To wit:
Smith: "We're not in the losing business. We're in the winning business."
Reality check: Sorry, but at this point in franchise history, the Titans are in the losing business. Including this year, the Titans have only three winning seasons in the past decade.
Smith: "It's nice to be competitive and say you got close but like everyone says, it's like kissing your sister. We're not into that."
Reality check: Sunday was more of the same. It was the second overtime loss of the season and the third time the Titans have lost by three or fewer points. Optimists see a team that often puts itself in position to win at the end. Pessimists see a team that finds ways to lose.
Smith: "I think we're on the edge of being very competitive."
Reality check: Unlike last year, yes, the Titans have been competitive in most of their games this season. But let's not get carried way. Against teams with winning records, they are 0-7 and have lost by an average of 9.6 points.
Smith: "I understand fans spend hard-earned money on it and have an emotional tie to it. We're going to fix this for them."
Reality check: While Sunday's game marked the 153rd consecutive home sellout, roughly one-third of LP Field was unoccupied at kickoff. And that's nothing new. As the Titans have languished in mediocrity over the last few seasons, attendance has suffered. The tickets might be sold and money deposited but fan interest has waned.
By the time the Titans finished their stunning comeback at the end of regulation, only about 10,000 fans were still in the bleachers.
Smith: "The players have been playing hard."
Reality check: Yes, and they continue to do so. Say what you will about how this team has been coached but you can't fault the effort Munchak has gotten. Rather than go quietly after falling behind 34-17 deep in the fourth quarter, the Titans forced overtime, which speaks well for players and coaches alike.
Smith: "If we can be as active in the offseason as we were last year and shore up some of these holes, I think we're on the edge of being very competitive, but we're not quite there yet."
Reality check: How did it get to the point where you had to spend $100 million in free agency after last season and need to do it again now? You can't blame this on Munchak. If the roster needed this much retooling, the ball was dropped by the previous regime, where ex-coach Jeff Fisher called most of the personnel shots, then-GM Mike Reinfeldt rubber-stamped them and Bud Adams didn't intervene.
Moving forward, the idea is to fix it.
Smith: "We're going to evaluate each and every player and each and every coach. … We'll sit down the first week in January and start going through the process."
Reality check: While it's all well and good to let the season play out before making any final decisions, the evaluation process of Munchak should be ongoing. As he nears the end of his third season, he has a body of work that should tell you whether he is or is not the coach to steer this franchise out of its current state.
Smith: "We're going to get better and we're going to win."
Reality check: When? We're waiting.