Homefield Advantage Not What It Was, But Thrills Remain

David Boclair

NASHVILLE – Nissan Stadium is not the house of horrors that it once was for visiting teams.

It has, however, become a thrill ride for all who enter.

The Tennessee Titans will play their sixth home game of the season Sunday when they host the Jacksonville Jaguars. Each of the first five were decided by seven points or fewer, three by three points or fewer.

Already, there have been more nail-biters there this than in last season’s eight home games (three decided by four points or fewer) and as many decided by seven points or fewer as in any season since 2006, when six were decided by a touchdown or less. The game against the Jaguars will be the first of three chances to add to that total before the end of the current schedule.

The last three were victories – by a combined 10 points – that give Tennessee a winning record at home (3-2) headed into this weekend. The most recent contest there, a 35-32 victory over Kansas City on Nov. 10, was not settled until defensive back Josh Kalu blocked a game-tying field goal attempt as time expired. Two weeks earlier the Titans outlasted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27-23, courtesy of a fourth-down stop just after the two-minute warning and an interception with 26 seconds remaining. Before that was a 23-20 triumph over the L.A. Chargers capped by a goal-line stand in the final minute.

By contrast, the final margin in all five road games has been at least 10 points. In four of the five it was 13 or more.

“I always think that we’re gritty, we’re tough,” coach Mike Vrabel said. “We need to play better. We need to execute better, but there is I think sometimes the grittier and grimier it gets, is kind of where we like it and where it should be.”

Close games have been a part of Nissan Stadium since the beginning.

The first regular season contest (Sept. 12, 1999) was a 36-35 victory over Cincinnati, which included a game-winning field goal with eight seconds to play. The 2000 opener was an overtime victory over Kansas City, and Tennessee eventually won its first 12 games in the building (an NFL record), seven of them by a touchdown or less. The initial defeat was by a single point, 24-23 to Baltimore in which the Ravens scored a touchdown with 25 seconds to go.

The first playoff game was a 22-16 victory over Buffalo in the 1999 wild card round. That contest came to be known as the Music City Miracle because the decisive score was Kevin Dyson’s 75-yard kickoff return, following a Frank Wycheck lateral, with three seconds to play.

All-time, the Titans are 96-73 there, including playoffs, and have finished with a winning record at home each of the last three seasons (6-2 in in 2017 and 2018, 5-3 in 2016), all of which ended with 9-7 overall records.

They have not gone undefeated at home since that inaugural year and have won more than six games, which is the best they can do this year, just once since 2000. The sellout streak, which began with the first contest, ended in 2015 and increasingly in recent seasons fans of the opposing teams have showed up for games. Kansas City supporters were plentiful two weeks ago.

Regardless of their loyalty, everyone who has come through the gates this season has had reason to stay to the end, or at least close to it.

“We haven’t been consistent this year,” safety Kevin Byard said. “We haven’t played our best football sometimes, but one thing about this team, we battle our ass off. Every single game, no matter what happens, we battle our ass off. When things don’t go well, we just keep fighting.”

Last season’s home slate included a 24-point victory over New England and a 21-point loss to Baltimore. Nothing of the sort has played out there thus far in 2019, which might not necessarily be a bad thing given the way this season has gone.

Through the first 11 weeks, 81 games across the NFL have been decided by seven points or fewer. That is tied for the third-highest total at this point of the season. More than one in five have been decided by three points or fewer. Teams have come from behind in the fourth quarter to win 38 times – including the Titans in each of their last three at home.

“The more that you do something routinely, guys start to build some confidence,” Vrabel said. “We’ve got a lot of work in these situations.”