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The Tennessee Titans were one of the NFL’s worst teams through the first five weeks of the season, but a rookie quarterback and a clutch kicker have turned them into one of the hottest.
Tennessee (5-7) lost five straight to open the season, getting outscored 135-60 while committing 12 turnovers. The Titans, though, have regrouped to win three straight and five of their last seven games, averaging 23.0 points and committing just nine turnovers in that span.
The Titans’ last two victories have come in dramatic fashion. They tied for the NFL’s second-best comeback in a 24-21 victory Nov. 26 over the New York Giants, scoring 24 unanswered points in the final 10 minutes.
Tennessee followed that performance with 20-17 victory over the Indianapolis Colts last week, rallying from a 14-point deficit to beat one of the league’s best teams.
“It is almost like a statement to let people in our division and people around the league know that we are almost back to where we were,” Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck said. “So they know what happens when we start rolling.”
The Titans are enjoying their longest winning streak since running off six straight from Oct. 12-Nov. 23, 2003, en route to a 12-4 finish and their last playoff appearance. They still harbor postseason hopes with four games left thanks to Young and kicker Rob Bironas.
Young, who is 5-4 as a starter, has completed 65 percent of his passes over the last two games for 412 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions. Bironas has kicked game-winning field goals in each of those wins, including a 60-yarder to beat the Colts. He set a franchise record with that kick and became the sixth kicker in NFL history to connect from 60 yards or longer, earning AFC special teams player of the week honors.
Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher knew things would come together.
“I said a long time ago that these guys are working hard, and they trust each other,” Fisher said. “When you have those combinations of good things going on, things eventually will turn around.”
Young recorded his second career win Oct. 29 in a 28-22 win over the Texans and will return to his hometown for the first time since being taken third overall in the 2006 draft. The Titans, who were located in Houston from 1960-96 when they were known as the Oilers, are going for their eighth win in 10 all-time meetings against the Texans (4-8).
To do that, they’ll have to improve their play against lesser opponents. Tennessee is 3-2 against 2005 playoff teams this season, but only 2-5 against non-playoff teams.
The Texans are going for consecutive wins for the first time since 2004 following a sloppy 23-14 win over the Oakland Raiders last Sunday. Houston won despite finishing with negative passing yards and not completing a pass in the second half.
Quarterback David Carr connected on 7 of 14 passes for 32 yards, but was sacked five times for 37 yards and fumbled three times. The Texans’ signal caller has completed an NFL-best 69.1 percent of his passes this season for 2,251 touchdowns, 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Carr has started every game for Houston against the Titans, averaging 204.0 passing yards, but throwing 12 interceptions compared to nine TD passes.
“David has got to go right back this week and do things better,” said Texans coach Gary Kubiak, whose team was outgained 302-124 in total yards by Oakland. “I told him: ‘You have to fix it and go back and play. You have to come back and play well this week for us to have a chance to win.”’
Carr’s favorite target, Andre Johnson, had just one reception for nine yards last week, both season lows. He needs just nine more receiving yards to reach 1,000 for the second time in his career.
Titans running back Travis Henry is 151 yards away from his third 1,000-yard season, and rushed for 159 in his only career game in Houston. Tennessee’s LenDale White is questionable for Sunday’s game with an irritated hip flexor.