Titans get second chance to clinch AFC South with road win

·4 min read

NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Titans at least should be comfortable in this spot.

For a fourth straight year, they go to the regular-season finale needing a victory to clinch a playoff berth. Just like a year ago, they head to Houston needing a win to guarantee they go to the post-season .

The difference this time? A win clinches the AFC South and the Titans' first home playoff game since the 2008 season.

“We just have to go out there and do it," Titans safety Kevin Byard said.

The Titans have reached the playoffs two of the previous three seasons by winning their final game. They beat Jacksonville in 2017 with Mike Mularkey as coach, lost to Indianapolis in 2018 missing three key starters, and downed the resting Texans in Houston a year ago.

They had a chance Sunday night to clinch the division after Indianapolis ' loss to Pittsburgh. But Tennessee fell behind 19-0 and wound up losing 40-14 to the Packers in snowy Lambeau Field.

They still can clinch the division if the Colts lose at home to Jacksonville with its 14-game skid or if both the Titans and Indianapolis tie. Beating Houston (4-11) would be much more satisfying, and now they get another chance at grabbing the division with a win.

“Rarely do you get a second opportunity at something, and I think that that’s the message this week, is that we’ve got a second opportunity to be able to go on the road, win a game, win our 11th game, win the division, host a home playoff game," Titans coach Mike Vrabel said Monday.

Vrabel said that means fixing what cost them in the loss to Green Bay and prepare for the ever dangerous Deshaun Watson.

“It’s going to be critical that we start the game better," Vrabel said.

WHAT’S WORKING

The run game led by Derrick Henry remains strong even though the NFL rushing leader snapped his streak at nine straight road games with at least 100 yards rushing. Henry finished with 98 yards as the Titans piled up 156 yards rushing. That's their eighth game with at least 150 yards rushing, and they rank second averaging 160.1 yards rushing this season.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

The offence . Yes, a unit that is among the NFL's best showed how reliant Tennessee is on the offence scoring on every drive possible to cover up the defensive struggles. The Titans went three-and-out on three drives when it mattered most, including one ended by an interception.

The third came in the third quarter just after the Packers had scored going up 26-14. The Titans picked up just 3 yards and punted, and that was it.

STOCK UP

Henry. He leads the NFL with 1,777 yards and has a 220-yard lead over Dalvin Cook trying to repeat as the NFL's rushing leader. That hasn't happened in the NFL since Pro Football Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson did it in 2006-07. Hall of Famer Earl Campbell is the only other running back for this franchise to lead the league in rushing more than one season.

STOCK DOWN

Linebacker Rashaan Evans. The No. 22 pick overall in 2018 has struggled with untimely penalties, and he leads the Titans with seven for 79 yards.

His latest came on the second drive of the game with the NFL's worst defence having come up with a rare third-down stop by forcing an incomplete pass by Aaron Rodgers on third-and-10. Evans was flagged for hands to the face, tied up with an offensive lineman away from the play.

“That would go under the category of not doing dumb stuff that hurts the team,” Vrabel said.

INJURED

For a team that has lost a pair of offensive tackles, including left tackle Taylor Lewan, and defenders including Jadeveon Clowney and linebacker Jayon Brown, the Titans appear to be as healthy as they've been in weeks. Cornerback Adoree Jackson played 65 snaps in his second game back this season.

KEY NUMBER

11 — The Titans at least remain tied for the league lead with a plus-11 turnover margin.

NEXT STEPS

Go to Houston and try to clinch a playoff berth on the road for a second straight year, this time with a win ensuring a home game. That is the simplest way for the Titans. Otherwise, they need Indianapolis to fall to get the AFC South crown, or Baltimore or Miami to lose — or three other scenarios involving ties or losses — for another wild-card berth.

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Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker

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Teresa M. Walker, The Associated Press