The Tennessee Titans’ thrilling run came to an end last week, but they’re determined to reach the playoffs despite the long odds.
Another loss Sunday in a home game against the woeful St. Louis Rams would all but dash those faint hopes.
Entertaining thoughts of the postseason seemed unthinkable for Tennessee during an 0-6 start, but the Titans made NFL history by winning their next five, a stretch that began after they made Vince Young(notes) their starting quarterback.
That streak ended last week with a 27-17 loss at Indianapolis, putting Tennessee (5-7) two games behind Jacksonville for the AFC’s final wild-card berth. There are four AFC teams sitting just one game back of the Jaguars.
That means anything short of another four straight victories will likely keep the Titans home in January, and even that win streak might not be enough to avoid missing the postseason.
“Realistically, most of it’s out of our control,” said coach Jeff Fisher, who is searching for his third straight winning season. “We need to win out, and they’re aware of that. The only chance we’ve got is to win the next one.”
For inspiration, Fisher could draw upon his team’s experience in 2006. The Titans started 0-5 that season but played their way into contention on the season’s last day, needing losses by three teams and a win to earn an improbable playoff berth.
They got that scenario to play out perfectly, except for a victory in their finale.
“We’ll see how it goes. We just need to win the next one. It’s exciting to see how it happens,” said cornerback Cortland Finnegan(notes), who was a rookie when Tennessee fell to New England to finish that season.
With league-leading rusher Chris Johnson, Fisher’s team definitely has a good opportunity for a win against the Rams (1-11).
Johnson, who became the fifth different NFL player to compile 1,500 yards in 12 games, had his seventh straight 100-yard performance last week with 113 on 27 carries, giving him 1,509 on the season. The Titans, however, couldn’t recover after giving up a touchdown in the first two minutes.
Young had a season-high two touchdown passes and 241 yards after throwing for a career-best 387 the previous week, but Tennessee came away with just one field goal on three trips inside the Colts’ 20.
“We just didn’t finish in the red zone,” Young said. “Our guys made some big plays, but we just didn’t finish. Against a team like this, with an MVP quarterback, you have to score touchdowns.”
“He didn’t practice today,” Titans coach Jeff Fisher said Friday, adding that missing practice “will not have anything to do with whether or not he plays. He understands the game plan and got at least half of the preparation.”
Tennessee will likely rely on Johnson more in this week’s game as he’ll face one of the NFL’s worst rushing defenses. St. Louis, which allows 146.2 yards per game on the ground, is also among the worst in average points (26.2) and total yards (363.7) allowed.
It wasn’t the defense that caused St. Louis the most frustration in last week’s 17-9 loss at Chicago. In their fourth straight defeat, the Rams were held without a touchdown for the first time since Oct. 25 despite favorable field position for most of the game.
Seven of their 13 possessions began at no worse than their own 41, and nine times they crossed midfield.
Steven Jackson rushed for 112 yards on 28 carries for his fifth 100-yard performance in six games, but Kyle Boller(notes) threw for just 113 yards as he lost his 10th straight start dating to Oct. 21, 2007, with Baltimore.
The Rams will need a better performance from Boller as they try to take advantage of one of the league’s worst passing defenses (267.0 ypg). The Titans are among the best, however, at stopping the run (100.3 ypg), and they haven’t allowed an opposing player to rush for 100 yards since Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew(notes) on Nov. 1.
“We all know Steven’s the featured guy here, so I don’t think we’re going to drive anybody out of what they do stopping the run,” said coach Steve Spagnuolo, whose team has averaged an NFL-worst 11.6 points. “But we’ll find other ways to move the ball downfield.”
The Rams and Titans have met just once since their Super Bowl matchup in 2000, St. Louis’ 31-27 home win on Sept. 25, 2005.
The Rams have made one previous trip to Tennessee, a 24-21 loss on Oct. 31, 1999. They lead the all-time series 7-3, including the Super Bowl victory.