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The Tennessee Titans appeared to be a virtual lock for the playoffs with a strong first half of the season. Another disappointing loss their last time out, however, has them on the brink of being eliminated from postseason contention.
Tennessee tries to keep its slim playoff hopes alive on Sunday when it visits the stumbling Kansas City Chiefs, who are trying to avoid their longest losing streak in 20 years.
The Titans (7-6) reached the midway point of this season with six wins in eight games, but little has gone right since.
Tennessee was in position to defeat AFC West Division-leading San Diego last Sunday and move into a tie for the AFC’s final wild-card spot, but a fourth-quarter collapse left the Titans with four losses in their last five games.
Tennessee led 17-3 midway through the fourth before the Chargers stormed back to tie the game on a 2-yard touchdown pass with nine seconds left. In overtime, San Diego scored on a 16-yard LaDainian Tomlinson run to win 23-17.
“This team has to do something to get moving back in the right direction,” said Titans defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, who tied his career high with three sacks. “We still have hope. We’re going to keep fighting. This team is all about fighting.”
With three games left, Tennessee has little room for error as it sits two games back of Jacksonville and one behind Cleveland for the conference’s two wild-card spots. The Titans will be eliminated from the playoff picture if they lose to the Chiefs (4-9), the Jaguars win at Pittsburgh and the Browns beat Buffalo at home on Sunday.
“We’ve got to win them all,” Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher said. “There’s no doubt about that. It’s pretty simple. That starts with this week. If we play like we played (last Sunday), we have a chance to win the remaining three games.”
With defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth back for his second straight game last week, the Titans played stellar defense for 3 1/2 quarters. Tennessee had five sacks, three interceptions and held the Chargers to just 166 yards before giving up 175 yards between the final 2:24 of regulation and overtime.
“We just have to put that game in the past. We got three more left,” said quarterback Vince Young, who finished 13-of-21 for 121 yards and two interceptions. “We have to fight hard and get ready to play the next play. We can’t live off that game right there. It happened, and now it’s in the past. Let’s move on.”
LenDale White rushed for 113 yards and a touchdown on 30 carriers against the Chargers after running for 141 yards and a TD on 41 attempts in his last four games combined.
The Titans are fourth in the NFL in rushing with 133.5 yards per game, while the Chiefs are tied with San Francisco for the seventh-worst rush defense in the league (123.5).
Kansas City gave up a season-high 215 rushing yards in last Sunday’s 41-7 loss to Denver, a low point in a disappointing season for the Chiefs.
Kansas City fell behind 14-0 less than eight minutes into the game, and was outgained 453-129. The Chiefs had three turnovers, a season-low seven first downs and went three-and-out eight times.
“This is probably the worse game we played all season as a football team - collectively,” Kansas City coach Herm Edwards said.
“The defense put our offense in a bad way. Right now our strength, if we have a strength, is our defense. And you can’t give up 14 points early in the first quarter of a football game and expect your offense to come out and start moving the ball. We’ve struggled all year scoring points.”
The Chiefs started the season 4-3, but have dropped six straight - their longest losing streak since 1998. Kansas City has not lost seven in a row since a nine-game slide in 1987.
The Chiefs rank last in the league in rushing (80.2), and ran for just 16 yards on 17 attempts against the Broncos.
Rookie Kolby Smith managed just 12 yards on 13 carries after rushing for 233 yards and two touchdowns on 52 attempts in his first two games in place of the injured Larry Johnson, who will miss his sixth straight game with a foot injury.
Kansas City has lost four in a row at home, and is just 2-5 at Arrowhead Stadium this season. The Chiefs, who were 13-3 at home the last two seasons, have not lost five straight home games in a single season since 1976.
In the last meeting between these teams on Dec. 13, 2004, Kansas City racked up 542 yards in winning 49-38. The Chiefs have won four of the last five meetings.
The Titans have not traveled to Kansas City since 1995, when they were the Houston Oilers.