Tennessee Titans coach Mike Munchak has to like his team’s chances in the AFC South with the division leader facing a major injury.
The Falcons try to avoid losing two straight for the first time this season Sunday when they host a resurgent Titans team looking to continue its success against NFC foes.
A win last weekend would have lifted Atlanta (5-4) past New Orleans in the South, but instead, the Falcons are looking up in the standings following a 26-23 overtime loss to the Saints.
Atlanta forced the extra session with 10 unanswered points in the final 4:13, but Smith’s decision to go for it on fourth-and-1 at the Falcons’ 29-yard line backfired as Michael Turner(notes) was stuffed.
The Saints went on to kick a 26-yard field goal that ended the Falcons’ season-high three-game run as well as a six-game November winning streak.
“I know (the decision) will be scrutinized all week long,” said Smith, whose team converted its first two fourth downs of the season earlier in the game. “I want everybody to understand I take full responsibility.”
The Titans (5-4), meanwhile, lead the NFL in red zone touchdown efficiency at 71.4 percent (15 for 21). Chris Johnson has rushed for just 15 yards on 10 carries inside the 20 this season, but his 1-yard fourth-quarter TD run in last Sunday’s 30-3 victory at Carolina capped a season-high 130-yard effort for the three-time Pro Bowler.
His second 100-yard game of 2011 helped Tennessee - the league’s worst running team at 81.3 yards per game - pile up a season-best 172 on the ground.
“We finally gave him carries (a season-high 27),” said Munchak, whose team is 3-0 when Johnson runs at least 15 times. “This was one of those games we have been waiting for.”
If the Titans can get their ground game going against the Falcons’ third-ranked rush defense, which allows 90.3 yards per game, they should have a good chance of winning for the third time in four weeks.
A victory would also close the gap with idle Houston, which leads the division by 1 1/2 games but could be without starting quarterback Matt Schaub(notes) for the rest of the season due to a foot injury.
The Titans have won 18 of 20 against NFC opponents.
“It’s hard to figure out why that is, but I hope the pattern stays the same,” Munchak said. “… Going to Atlanta’s going to be a great challenge.”
The Falcons have won their last four at home against the AFC, but Ryan has dropped four of seven at the Georgia Dome - including last season’s playoff loss to Green Bay - after a 15-game winning streak.
Ryan gets his first look at the Titans after setting career highs with 351 yards and 52 attempts last weekend. Atlanta is 3-11 during Ryan’s career when he’s thrown 40 or more passes.
The Falcons have won five of six this season when Turner gets at least 19 carries. That loss was last Sunday when he finished with 96 yards on 22 rushes.
“I would love to be in that situation again,” Turner said after his final carry came up short.
The Titans franchise has posted five consecutive victories over Atlanta since a 47-27 Falcons home win over the Houston Oilers on Sept. 9, 1990.