From 0-1 to 0-and-deep-sixed, the default sound byte in the Tennessee Titans’ locker room this year has been some mild variation of “We move on,” an empty mantra that fills the otherwise stunned silence of their precipitous fall from grace.
"Honestly,” linebacker Keith Bulluck said, “I just kinda run out of things to talk about. It's kinda hard when you know your team isn't playing up to its ability and hasn't played up to its capabilities yet. It's tough to answer these questions."
Going into Tennessee’s bye week, a franchise that has prided itself on fundamentals and preparation since relocating over a decade ago has the same record as they would have without a preseason. Without training camp. Without a draft or free agency. Sunday’s record-setting 59-0 loss to the Patriots serving as the latest black mark on a season in which the Titans were initially projected as Super Bowl contenders.
But from a 13-10 season-opening, overtime loss at Pittsburgh in which the Titans seemed to have the Steelers dead-to-rights, the Titans have continuously regressed in focus and morale, each loss worse than before.
At Foxboro, the Titans were literally snowed over, culminating in a New England scoring avalanche where the Titans’ injury problems and lack of chemistry and motivation were exposed with PlayStation numbers.
"I don't think anybody in this league is 59 points better than us," tight end Bo Scaife said. "This is the worst it gets."
It was the worst loss in Oilers/Titans franchise history and the greatest win in Patriots history as far as margin of victory. The worst rout since the NFL merger and sixth-largest all time.
Tom Brady—who was virtually flawless against the Titans—added several new records to his Hall-of-Fame resume, including most touchdowns in a single quarter (five) and establishing the largest halftime lead (45-0) in NFL history. It’s entirely clear that had he been allowed to lead the Pats for both halves, Brady would have put several NFL single-game benchmarks for touchdowns and yardage well beyond reach.
Oh, and one more: with "The Boston Massacre" complete, the Titans have become the first team in NFL history to start 0-6 after winning at least 13 games the previous season.
"Fortunately for me, career-wise, I have never been through anything like this before and, unfortunately, it happened tonight,” Tennessee head coach Jeff Fisher said, according to the Associated Press .
“I can assure you one thing, it's not going to happen again."
Before Sunday’s loss in Boston, the Titans hadn’t given up 38 points since the finale of the 2006 season, when the Patriots scored 40 in Nashville to eliminate the Titans from the playoffs in Vince Young’s rookie campaign.
It seems almost surreal that a team that has consistently ranked toward the top of the NFL in defense could fall so far so quickly. While those around the Titans’ facility claim it’s a combination of bad luck and poor execution, others have suggested it’s simply the chickens coming home to roost for a franchise spoiled by success.
Steelers fans regularly claim, with a dash of Schadenfraude, that the Titans are cursed for stomping on their "Terrible Towel." Several Titans, most notably running back LenDale White, earned public scrutiny for disrespecting the Steelers’ beloved relic in the aftermath of Tennessee’s 31-14 win at home last December over the eventual Super Bowl champions. It was the Titans' last win.
And while it is impossible and unfair to gauge if Titans legend Steve McNair’s homicide plays a part in any bad karma the Titans are facing, the tragedy certainly deserves a prominent place in the star-crossed timeline of the Titans’ "lost year" of 2009. (The story continues to produce headlines, with Nashville police releasing transcripts Monday of the sordid text message exchanges between McNair and his killer, girlfriend Sahel Kazemi, from their final hours together.)
For the first time in recent memory, there are serious questions regarding Fisher’s ability to control his team. With Tennessee getting outscored 127-26 in the past three games, it appears he couldn’t even keep the Titans focused and motivated through a quarter of this season.
“Right now, it’s as bad as I’ve seen it, and that’s a long time,” owner Bud Adams said in an interview with The Tennessean Sunday night. “We had the best record in the NFL last year. I can’t understand it.
"If we end up losing every game or don't look better, I'd have to look at (Fisher’s status as head coach) pretty hard, you know what I mean?"
After 15 seasons at the helm, does the NFL’s longest-tenured coach still have the tactical rapport with his team to effect a turnaround?
These and several other hard questions will be asked in the two long weeks before a return date at home with divisional rival Jacksonville. In a brutal AFC where an 11-5 Patriots team last year missed the playoffs, Tennessee needs to look to the future and re-group. The legacy of the Fisher era may depend on it.