Tied atop AFC South, Titans focus on Denver, not playoffs
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Sitting atop the AFC South at this time of year is unusual for the Tennessee Titans, at least in recent years.
Now, the challenge is to finish on top of the division for the first time since 2008.
''They know what lies ahead,'' Titans coach Mike Mularkey said Monday. ''It's really a four-game season for our team. Again, I've said it, you can't let what happens anywhere else affect us. It's just about what we do and what we do against Denver. That will be the message. It always has been.''
The Titans returned from their bye Monday tied with Houston (6-6) atop the division after the Texans lost their third straight. They host the Texans in the regular season finale Jan. 1. Before they start thinking about a postseason berth, the Titans have their work cut out for them: They host the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos (8-4) on Sunday before a trip to Kansas City (9-3).
Then they visit Jacksonville, the only divisional team Tennessee has beaten this season.
Staying in the playoff chase means the Titans have to put together a winning streak after going into their bye with a 27-21 win over Chicago . They've won two straight only done once this season when they won at Miami on Oct. 9 and followed that up by beating the winless Browns on Oct. 16. This franchise hasn't won three straight since a 3-1 start in 2011.
''We're not satisfied with just being able to play meaningful games,'' defensive lineman Karl Klug said. ''We have to make them count. It doesn't do us any good if we play meaningful games and lose them. We need to make sure we take care of business.''
This is the first season since 2011 that the Titans have had something to play for past the regular season finale that didn't focus on who they might draft in April and how high that pick would be. That season, they just missed the playoffs on a tiebreaker at 9-7 in Mike Munchak's first season as head coach.
Finishing hasn't been easy for Tennessee in recent seasons. The Titans went 2-3 after the calendar flipped to December both in finishing 6-10 in 2012 and 7-9 in 2013.
Winning only five games combined each of the past two seasons put the Titans in position to draft Marcus Mariota at No. 2 overall in 2015, and they traded away the top overall draft pick for 2016 trying to rebuild.
With the overhaul, no one on the current roster has ever played a postseason game in a Tennessee uniform. Cornerback Jason McCourty is the longest-tenured player with this franchise in his eighth season, and he was drafted in 2009 - the year after the Titans won the AFC South with a league-best 13-3 record.
McCourty, who used the bye to heal up a sore knee, said knowing the Titans are tied for first feels good. The jolt of energy only helps him focus on Denver.
''The only thing we can control right now is trying to get this win on Sunday and just furthering our chances,'' McCourty said. ''So we know we have the opportunity to do the things we want to do. We got to win each game at a time.''
Starting with Denver.
Notes: Mularkey said the Titans would be placing rookie LB Kevin Dodd (right foot) on injured reserve . ... DL Jurrell Casey (foot) did not practice Monday and is being evaluated daily. RB DeMarco Murray (toe on right foot) practiced.
For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL.