Thursday, November 11, 1999

Titans in search of consistency


Have beaten league's best, but stumbled lately

BY TOM GROESCHEN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Tennessee Titans are 6-2 entering Sunday's game at Cincinnati, but it is a troubled 6-2.

        The franchise hopes to challenge for its first playoff berth since 1993, but last Sunday's 17-0 loss at Miami was a serious clunker. Of the five NFL teams that suffered at least one shutout in 1998, none made the playoffs.

        Coach Jeff Fisher, 38-40 in his career, gracefully presided over the team's tumultuous move from Houston three years ago. But after three straight 8-8 seasons, there is some urgency to break through.

        “All those 8-8s are getting monotonous to me, too,” Titans owner Bud Adams said in the offseason.

        There is some here-we-go-again grumbling in Nashville after the Miami loss, but Fisher is upbeat.

        “There is no internal pressure,” he told Cincinnati reporters in a teleconference Wednesday. “Nobody's looking over their shoulder. My job is to win for this owner, and there's no more pressure now to do that than there was in 1995.”

        After two difficult, nomadic seasons — one in Memphis' Liberty Bowl, one in Nashville's Vanderbilt Stadium — the Titans opened their permanent home this year, 67,000-seat Adelphia Coliseum.

        After working out of trailers and other subpar environs for two years, the team seems energized and the fans finally care. Things got rolling with a 36-35 comeback win over Cincinnati in the season opener, and the Titans have dealt Jacksonville its only loss and handed the Rams their first defeat Oct. 31.

        “It's a good feeling to have a home,” veteran safety Blaine Bishop said Wednesday. “I was one of those guys who thought it didn't matter where you played, but it does make a difference.”

        Fisher drew chuckles Wednesday when he mentioned the amenities of the Titans' new facilities, including breakfast served daily to the players. The Bengals have taken heat for not doing that.

        “The players enjoy coming to work now,” Fisher said.

        The Titans are 4-0 at home, where the crowds have been consistently loud. They helped cause the Rams to false-start several times.

        “The fans are our 12th man,” Bishop said.

        Yet, there is trouble in the would-be paradise. The loss at Miami, in which quarterback Steve McNair threw three interceptions and the Titans were embarrassed on national TV (ESPN), has some collars tight. The Titans haven't scored a touchdown in seven quarters, and are pondering their first shutout loss in 10 years.

        Perhaps the one-point win over lowly Cincinnati was an early warning?

        “We feel fortunate to be where we are,” Fisher said. “We don't believe we've played consistent football for four quarters, in all phases of the game. We feel like we're starting our season over now.”

        Fisher said all the right things about the Bengals Wednesday, as every opposing coach does. No, he can't figure out why the Bengals are 1-8 with the talent they have, etc., etc. But he also likes where he is, with the Titans riding a franchise-record 10 straight wins vs. AFC Central opponents.

        “At the beginning of the year, if you told me we'd be 6-2,” Fisher said, “we'd take it. But we need to get back on the winning track.”

       



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