NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Titans have frittered away their margin for error by dropping back-to-back games on the road to teams with losing records.
Now the task at hand to end the franchise’s playoff drought dating back to the 2008 season is simple: Win their final two games.
That’s the easiest math for the Titans (8-6), currently in the first wild-card spot as the AFC’s No. 5 playoff seed.
Buffalo and Baltimore Ravens, also at 8-6, are nipping at the Titans’ heels, though Tennessee has a better AFC record than the Bills and also beat Baltimore 23-20 on Nov. 5.
Luckily, the Titans also are back home where they have won five straight and nine of their past 10 going back to last season.
“You’ve got two games here to go where we want to go,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey said Monday. “If you’d said that back in July, I think they’d all have taken that.”
That’s why the Titans find themselves early home underdogs by nearly a touchdown to the high-flying Los Angeles Rams (10-4) for Sunday, and their AFC South rivals, the Jacksonville Jaguars, just might have the division title clinched before they wrap up the season together on New Year’s Eve.
“We need to go play hard and be ourselves,” left tackle Taylor Lewan said. “Be who we know we can be.”
That’s been the missing piece for Tennessee much of this season. When the Titans left town for the two-game road swing, they sat atop the AFC South without impressing many people outside their locker room.
They scored a season-low seven points in losing in Arizona only to see a defense that came in having allowed a league-low 33 plays of 20 yards or longer this season gashed three times in the fourth quarter alone by the 49ers.
Even two-time Pro Bowl tight end Delanie Walker struggled against his former team, dropping a would-be touchdown in the end zone early in the second quarter before fumbling later in the quarter fighting for extra yards.
Officials took away a potential interception by Erik Walden even after Mularkey challenged the ruling. Rookie cornerback Adoree Jackson dropped an interception in the fourth quarter.
Mularkey also said in hindsight he’d prefer Marcus Mariota switched to a pass from the run play the Titans called on third-and-2 before settling for their final field goal with 1:07 left.
DeMarco Murray was stopped for no gain even though San Francisco had only seven defenders close to the line of scrimmage.
Wide receiver Rishard Matthews reiterated Monday that he’d like to see the Titans use more no-huddle to rev up the offense. The Titans scored 17 straight points against the 49ers moving quickly, and Matthews said Mariota has proven he can read defenses pretty well. The receiver also said he thinks the Titans can be too predictable on offense.
“We got to have more creativity, some more study going in setting up matchups week to week,” Matthews said. “We can’t be repetitive and doing the same thing over and over. It’s a smart league. The other guys on the other side get paid too. We’ve got to do a better job creating matchups.”
NOTES: Mularkey said LB Derrick Morgan, who missed the past two games with a sprained knee, should be back. DL Karl Klug (groin injury) may miss a game. CB Logan Ryan (ankle) will be evaluated Wednesday.
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