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Coach Jeff Fisher is confident the Tennessee Titans’ bye week won’t slow down his undefeated team.
The Titans return to the field Sunday looking to continue the best start in the franchise’s 49-year history as they visit the struggling Kansas City Chiefs.
Prior to last week’s bye, Tennessee (5-0) pushed its NFL-high winning streak to eight games - one that began last season at Kansas City - with a 13-10 road victory over Baltimore on Oct. 5.
The run is the Titans’ best since they won eight in a row from Sept. 10-Nov. 5, 2000, and now they can post their longest win streak since winning a franchise-record 11 straight from Oct. 17, 1993-Jan. 2, 1994, when the team was the Houston Oilers.
Fisher, leading the NFL’s only remaining unbeaten team, has little doubt that his players will be able to pick up where they left off two weeks ago.
“We’re not going to have any difficulty getting focused for this ball game,” said Fisher, in his 10th year at the Titans’ helm. “I’m not concerned about them taking anybody lightly or taking things for granted or coming in with a lack of focus. They’re highly motivated right now.
“That’s what gotten us to this point and we’re not going to waver off of it.”
Tennessee’s success is also due to a stingy defense that has held opponents to 288.6 yards per game - fourth-best in the NFL - and a league-low 11.2 points a contest while leading the NFL with 14 turnovers. That unit yielded 285 yards and had two interceptions in the win over the Ravens.
But for as many positives as they’ve had thus far, the Titans know there is still room for improvement, such as eliminating penalties. They were saddled with 10 for 78 yards last time out, and a pair of 15-yard infractions keyed Baltimore’s scoring drives.
“Even though we are 5-0, we’re always trying to find ways to get better,” linebacker Keith Bulluck said. “The coaches don’t necessarily have to tell us what’s wrong. We can already figure out what’s wrong and try to get better at it.”
Tennessee also looks to strengthen its offense, which has averaged 289.0 yards and was limited to a season-low 210 versus the Ravens. Quarterback Kerry Collins was intercepted twice, but went 17-of-32 for 163 yards and his 11-yard touchdown pass to Alge Crumpler with 1:56 to play was the difference.
The Titans might be able to improve their offensive production versus a Chiefs team that has allowed 396.6 yards per game - fourth-worst in the league.
Unlike Tennessee, Kansas City was dealing with several distractions during its bye week. On Tuesday afternoon, it was announced that nine-time Pro Bowler Tony Gonzalez would remain with the team, following 10 tense days in which it was thought he might be traded to a contending club.
The longtime face of the struggling franchise - and the league’s all-time leader among tight ends in receptions (841), receiving yards (10,075) and TD catches (68) - assured his teammates in a players-only meeting Wednesday that he wasn’t bitter about the outcome of the situation.
“All I want to do is play football and win football games,” said Gonzalez, who has 21 catches for 193 yards and two TDs this season. “That’s what I told my teammates today. They understand it. I think the fans understand. I’ve been here 12 years. I’ve given everything I have.”
The Chiefs, though, won’t have star running back Larry Johnson available this week after the team suspended him for one game for an undisclosed violation of team rules. Johnson is facing a charge of simple assault for pushing a woman at a nightclub in February - the third time he’s been charged with assaulting a woman - but coach Herm Edwards said the punishment had nothing to do with the most recent incident.
Johnson leads the team in rushing with 417 yards. However, the two-time Pro Bowler was held to two yards on seven attempts in a demoralizing 34-0 loss at Carolina on Oct. 5 in the Chiefs’ most recent outing.
Kansas City’s offense managed 127 yards - the team’s lowest total since a loss at Cleveland on Oct. 12, 1986. Damon Huard and Tyler Thigpen were sacked three times, intercepted twice and combined to go 15-for-31 for 123 yards.
The passing game, though, could get a boost this week from Brodie Croyle, who returns after enduring a separated shoulder in the season opener.
Since entering the NFL in 2006, Croyle has started seven of 12 appearances, and he went 11-for-19 for 88 yards in his lone game this year. Against Tennessee last season, Croyle completed 25 of 43 passes for 217 yards and two TDs, but the Chiefs lost 26-17.
Despite Kansas City struggling through its worst start since 2004, Croyle remains confident the team can salvage the rest of the season.
“We’ve had our good moments, we’ve had our bad,” he said. “We just need to build off the good and be more consistent.”