Learning how to win, Titans pushing to end playoff drought
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Coach Mike Mularkey believes his Tennessee Titans are figuring out how to win. They have three games left to see just how much they can accelerate that learning curve -and end the franchise's playoff drought.
The Titans (7-6) have won three of four and are coming off a big 13-10 win over Denver that keeps them tied atop the AFC South with Houston, and they wrap up the season hosting the Texans (7-6) in what could be a showdown for the division title. Tennessee hasn't won the division since 2008, which also marked this team's last playoff appearance.
It's a big swing for a franchise that was mathematically eliminated from the playoffs this time a year ago and on its way to finishing with the No. 1 overall draft pick. Jon Robinson was hired as general manager with Mularkey kept as head coach after a mid-season promotion.
''They understand what we want, but I think they also are seeing that it's coming to light that we play the style of football we can be in the mix, and we're right in the mix of it,'' Mularkey said of his players on Monday. ''I'm just proud to be a part of it.''
The Titans also are only a game back of the AFC's second wild card berth.
Denver (8-5) currently holds that spot but finishes against a trio of 10-win teams in New England, Kansas City and Oakland. Tennessee trails both Miami (8-5) and Baltimore, 7-5 going into Monday night's game at New England. The Ravens also visit Pittsburgh (8-5) on Christmas.
The Titans must finish with a better record than the Texans to avoid losing a divisional tiebreaker with Houston . They hold head-to-head tiebreakers over Miami thanks to a 30-17 win Oct. 9 and also the Broncos.
Mariota says the Titans are right where they want to be and will focus on what they have left.
''If we just take care, take control of what we can, find ways to win games, if we win when it is all said and done, we will stay on top,'' Mariota said.
The Titans start a two-game road swing Sunday visiting the AFC West leading Kansas City (10-3). Then they go to Jacksonville (2-11) on Dec. 24 before hosting Houston on Jan. 1.
Cornerback Jason McCourty, drafted by the Titans in 2009, said it feels good to be in this situation and live to see another week.
''An opportunity like this doesn't mean anything if you don't win the game, so it's only one,'' McCourty said. ''We've still got three more to go, and we have to focus on Kansas City now.''�
The Titans, now 4-0 in games decided by six or fewer points, got this latest win with the defense getting three sacks and forcing their first two fumbles this season. Linebacker Avery Williamson helped knock loose the clinching fumble inside the final minute.
Even with defensive lineman Jurrell Casey sidelined by a sprained foot, the Titans held Denver to just 18 yards rushing, the fewest yards allowed by this team since Sept. 18, 2005, when the Baltimore Ravens ran for 14 yards. Denver ran only nine times, the fewest ever against the Tennessee franchise.
Offensively, Tennessee won despite Mariota having his worst performance in a game he finished. The only touchdown came from DeMarco Murray on the opening drive. The defense made that TD, and a pair of Ryan Succop field goals, stand up.
''I feel that this win, is definitely a win that will get us national attention,'' Williamson said.
Especially if the Titans keep it up.
Notes: Mularkey said Casey was close enough to playing that he warmed up. ... DL Karl Klug strained an Achilles tendon. ... The Titans promoted DE Mehdi Abdesmad (Meh-DI Abb-DES-mod) to the roster from the practice squad and waived RB David Fluellen.
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