The 2011 season marked a new beginning for the Tennessee Titans franchise.
The fresh start began when 16-year head coach Jeff Fisher stepped down before the start of the season, paving the way for offensive line coach Mike Munchak to take the helm. The first-time head coach, a Hall of Fame player, led the Titans to a respectable 8-8 record, leaving them just outside the Playoffs.
Former Seattle QB Matt Hasselbeck, the Titans’ major offseason acquisition, had a lot to do with that respectable record. The 13-year pro had his best season since 2007, throwing for 3,571 yards, 18 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Hasselbeck led the Titans to a 3-1 start with two of the wins coming against eventual Playoff teams in Baltimore and Denver.
The emergence of WR Kenny Britt factored greatly into the Titans’ early success. The third-year pro had 271 yards and three touchdowns through two games before suffering a season–ending knee injury against Denver.
The new tandem of Britt and Hasselbeck helped mask a huge problem for the Titans early in the season - an ineffective Chris Johnson.
Johnson made headlines when he held out through training camp and preseason games for a new contract, which he signed right before the final preseason game for $56 million (over six years). Johnson must return to form next season for the fans, and probably ownership, to accept giving him that much money.
With the NFL Lockout and his holdout seemingly setting him back, Johnson never got on track. The Titans’ game-changer at running back failed to change many games for the better; eclipsing 100 yards just four times (all wins). Johnson’s 1,047 yards and four touchdowns marked career lows for the speedster from East Carolina, and the team’s 89.1 YPG ranked 31st
in the league.
Nate Washington became “the guy” in the offense with Britt going down, and Johnson going nowhere en route to the best season of his career, with 1,023 yards and seven touchdowns.
But the Titans' defense kept them in most games in 2011, allowing just 19.8 PPG, good for eighth in the league. All but two of their losses came by seven points or less. Despite having to play some rookies in key spots, The Titans ranked 18th
in total defense.
Rookie linebackers Colin McCarthy (68 tackles, 54 solo) and Akeem Ayers (76 tackles, 50 solo) stepped up big for the Titans. The two ranked fifth and sixth respectively on the team in tackles. McCarthy won AFC Player of the Week for his nine tackles, 2 forced fumbles and one fumble recovery at Buffalo in Week 13. Another rookie DT, Karl Klug, led the team with seven sacks on the year.
Week's 7-11 marked the hardest stretch for the Titans. A 41-7 thumping by rival Houston and a 23-17 heartbreaker at Atlanta, which featured a stellar near comeback by rookie first-round QB Jake Locker, bookended a stretch that saw the Titans win one, then lose one.
The season’s low point came in the Week 15 loss to the (0-14) Indianapolis Colts. Tennessee led 6-3 at halftime only to lose 27-13 after a dismal second half, all but erasing the Titans’ Playoff hopes. Tight end Jared Cook stood as a lone bright spot, with nine catches for 103 yards. Cook followed with an eight catch, 169-yard, one touchdown game against Jacksonville.
Hasselbeck, Britt, Washington, Locker, the defensive rookies and Cook should all have Titans fans seeing 2011 as a new start to something with unlimited potential in the future.