NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Titans’ playoff hopes are slim at best after losing five of their last seven games. So Tennessee’s focus for December is simple. And desperate.
“Try to find a way to win a game. Put our full focus on the Jets,” first-year head coach Mike Vrabel said Tuesday.
The Titans (5-6) had a chance to stay in the AFC South race, but disappointing performances resulted in a 38-10 thumping at Indianapolis last week and then a 34-17 loss in Houston on Monday night.
The back-to-back losses have dropped Tennessee three games behind Houston. Now five teams stand between the Titans and the second AFC wild-card slot that they squeezed into last season with a 9-7 record.
If that’s not bad enough, Baltimore, Indianapolis and Miami all hold a crucial tiebreaker having beaten the Titans head-to-head.
“We can’t think about no playoffs, no nothing, anything about health,” safety Kevin Byard said after the loss in Houston. “The only thing in front of us is the New York Jets.”
The Titans, who have lost five of their last seven, wrap up the regular season playing four of five at home. Three opponents currently are 3-8, starting with the Jets and followed by a matchup against the Jaguars on Dec. 5. Their lone road trip is a trip to New York against the Giants (3-8) on Dec. 16.
Sunday’s game with the Jets will be only the Titans’ third home game since the end of September.
“We got to give our fans something to cheer about,” Vrabel said.
First, Tennessee needs to figure out how to give Mariota more time. No team has allowed more sacks this season than the Titans, and they gave up six to the Texans for a total of 39 through 11 games. Mariota has been sacked 35 times through 10 games and easily is on pace to top the 38 sacks in 12 games in his rookie season when Tennessee went 3-13.
The Titans wasted a franchise record performance by Mariota as the quarterback completed his first 19 passes and finished 22 of 23 for 303 yards with a 95.7 percent completion rate that was second only in NFL history to Phillip Rivers’ mark of 96.6 percent set a day earlier.
Mariota said he can do a better job of helping his teammates.
“I was holding onto the ball a little too long,” Mariota said. “I got us into negative situations taking some of these sacks. I’ll look back at the film, I’ll get better from it, and improve.”
The Titans also gave up a season-worst 281 yards rushing. And a team that went to Houston with the second-fewest accepted penalties in the NFL racked up seven flags for 50 yards.
Now they face playing two games in the span of five days, their third in 11 days.
“It’s all about us,” Mariota said. “It’s all about us taking care of our business and just focusing on what we can control.”
Notes: Vrabel said CB Malcolm Butler (stinger) is in the concussion protocol. He said they hope to get WR Taywan Taylor (left foot) back this week, though S Dane Cruikshank should miss another week.
Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL