With quarterback Matt Hasselbeck showing great poise and Chris Johnson running strong, the Tennessee Titans have posted their first set of back-to-back wins.
They have a good chance to make it three in a row if the Indianapolis Colts can't improve on the road.
The Titans look to continue their push up the AFC South standings Sunday when the Colts go for their first win outside Indianapolis in 11 tries.
Hasselbeck is expected to make a fourth consecutive start in place of Jake Locker, who injured his left, non-throwing shoulder Sept. 30 versus Houston. Locker has started to throw in practice, but the team is still uncertain when the 2011 first-round pick will return.
"If Jake's ready to play this week, Jake will start,'' coach Mike Munchak said Monday. "If Jake's ready next week, Jake will start and from there we'll figure it out.''
Munchak's comments clearly support Locker as the starter, but Hasselbeck is making a strong case to stay under center. The veteran has led the Titans to a 2-1 mark, with both wins coming in come-from-behind fashion. After leading Tennessee to a 26-23 victory over Pittsburgh on Oct. 11 with 10 unanswered points in the final 4:19, Hasselbeck threw a 15-yard touchdown to Nate Washington on fourth down with 1:03 left in last Sunday's 35-34 win at Buffalo.
Tennessee (3-4) is still three games back of division-leading Houston, but can move ahead of second-place Indianapolis (3-3) with a Sunday win.
The possible return of Colts linebacker Robert Mathis (knee) after a two-game absence could give a defense that allows an average of 141.7 rushing yards a boost, but Johnson could be tough to slow down. The former 2,000-yard back is averaging 7.7 yards per carry over the last two games after rushing for 195 yards and two scores against the Bills. It was the third-highest run total of Johnson's career and it earned him AFC offensive player of the week honors.
"We can see that he can still do it," said left tackle Michael Roos, whose 119-game consecutive starts streak will come to an end after undergoing an appendectomy Monday. "And it was good for us to have a game like this with (195) yards rushing.''
Johnson has totaled 128 rushing yards with an average of 2.6 yards per carry in his last three games against the Colts.
As much as Indianapolis is relying on Andrew Luck to throw to Reggie Wayne and Donnie Avery, the club understands it has to run the ball. Led by rookie Vick Ballard's 84 yards on the ground, the Colts set a season high with 148 rushing yards in last Sunday's 17-13 victory over Cleveland, to surpass last season's win total.
The Colts could add depth to their backfield on Sunday if leading rusher Donald Brown (knee) returns after missing two contests.
"It's nice to see a little pound, some first downs, two runs in a row and three runs in a row and get those first downs,'' said Luck, who is the first rookie QB with 1,500 passing yards (1,674) and three wins in a team's first six games in NFL history. "It makes life a little easier as a quarterback.''
It would appear that facing a Titans defense giving up a league-worst 34.0 points per game would make life easier for Luck, but the No. 1 overall pick hasn't fared well in two road games, throwing one TD with five interceptions in lopsided losses to Chicago and the New York Jets.
Nine of the Colts' 12 turnovers have come in those defeats.
"Hopefully, those (turnovers) will come down," Luck told the Colts' official website. "We realize if we continue on that path, with averaging four a game on the road, we will be lucky to win one game on the road."
The Colts, who are winless on the road since Peyton Manning led them to a 31-26 victory over Oakland on Dec. 26, 2010, defeated the Titans 27-13 last December to snap an 0-13 start to the 2011 season.
Tennessee's 27-10 home win over Indianapolis on Oct. 30, 2011, ended a five-game skid in the series.