With a 5-6 record, the Titans enter Week 13 against the New York Jets desperately in need of a win after dropping consecutive games to division rivals. The Titans, who are in the midst of playing three games in 11 days, hope to get back on track in their return home this week.
Tennessee has a 3-1 record at Nissan Stadium, where it will play four of its final five games. That includes a 34-10 beatdown of the New England Patriots in Week 9. The Titans jumped to an early lead against New England, getting the crowd involved from their first drive. They'll need a similar effort against the Jets.
"The goal is you don't get down against the Jets," Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. "If we start fast, which I hope we do and continue on that path with a lead and try to keep it so we can control the game. We will try to start fast and execute early and play complementary. We have to play hard and give our fans something to cheer about. I understand that. We just have to get off to a good start at home."
Usually, when the Titans win the coin toss, they defer to get their defense on the field to set the tone. Forcing a quick three-and-out or generating a turnover would be the perfect start after being outscored 72-27 over the past two weeks.
"Just playing in front of the home crowd," Titans linebacker Jayon Brown said. "We have to start fast and execute. Get the ball back for our offense and give them as many opportunities to score by creating more turnovers. We have to push through and stack these wins up to make a run for the playoffs."
Although safety Kevin Byard agrees about focusing on the Jets, his reaction to the mention of the playoffs evoked memories of former Indianapolis Colts coach Jim Mora's epic reaction after his team lost to the San Francisco 49ers in 2001.
"We are playing terrible right now!" Byard said. "We aren't playing good football and have to play better in all phases of the game. We aren't thinking about the wild card right now. We can't think about the playoffs or anything else. The only thing that we can think about is what's right in front of us, and that's the New York Jets."
After facing the likes of Patriots wideout Josh Gordon, Colts speedster T.Y. Hilton and Texans All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins, Tennessee's Week 12 opponent presents yet another dangerous pass-catcher -- Jets wide receiver Robby Anderson. Titans cornerback Logan Ryan drew the assignment of covering Hopkins early in Monday's game. Given how the Jets like to use Anderson's speed on vertical routes, Ryan isn't likely to be asked to cover New York's explosive playmaker.
No matter who Ryan covers Sunday, he feels the season will be at stake.
"We get to go back to Nissan Stadium," Ryan said. "We have the pieces, and we know we are going back home and have to execute. Our season is on the line in a sense. We need to win this game. That's all that matters. You're going to see how much we care based on how we play. That's my mentality."
Losing in Houston dropped Tennessee's playoff chances to 12.5 percent, according to ESPN's Football Power Index (FPI). The Texans (8-3) and seem on their way to hosting a playoff game as they close in on the AFC South title. That leaves the Titans battling for a wild-card spot, so every contest essentially becomes an early playoff game.
"We have to win. Ain't no other way to put it than that," Titans tight end Jonnu Smith said.
If Tennessee hopes to make the postseason it will likely need to win its last five and finish with a 10-6 record. After the Jets, the Titans play host to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday night.
The opportunity to change the direction of their season with back-to-back home wins isn't lost on quarterback Marcus Mariota.
"It's huge. It's a short week, you've got to flush this [Houston loss] quick and move on," he said. "We've got two games in less than a week. It's all about us taking care of our business and focusing on what we can control. We haven't played complementary football. We haven't done a good enough job across the board. At the same time, there's no loss of confidence. We just got to go out there, find where we can all improve and bounce back."