Ti­tans’ backs to the wall

The Morning Call (Sunday) - - SPORTS - By Teresa M. Walker

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Ten­nessee Ti­tans’ mar­gin for er­ror is gone, and earn­ing a sec­ond straight play­off berth will re­quire fin­ish­ing this sea­son with a win­ning flour­ish.

The Ti­tans (5-6) blew hopes of the fran­chise’s first AFC South ti­tle in a decade by los­ing two straight in­side the divi­sion to cap a stretch of five losses in seven games. Line­backer Wesley Wood­yard says the Ti­tans’ backs are against the wall now.

“We got a chance to change and make up for what we’ve been do­ing these past cou­ple weeks and not wor­ried about what we should’ve done,” Wood­yard said.

Com­ing off a 34-17 loss in Hous­ton on Mon­day night, the Ti­tans will try to make their stand at home play­ing four of their fi­nal five games start­ing to­day with the New York Jets (3-8). The Ti­tans have won 13 of their last 16 at Nis­san Sta­dium, and line­backer Brian Orakpo says they un­der­stand the chal­lenge they face.

A year ago, the Ti­tans went 2-3 in De­cem­ber to miss out on the AFC South ti­tle but grab the sec­ond wild-card spot. Orakpo says they need to be re­al­is­tic, ig­nore all the sce­nar­ios and see the Jets as the first step to­ward win­ning out.

“We have to give our­selves a chance, 10-6 looks pretty good to me,” Orakpo said. “And we have to make sure that’s a re­al­ity and not just some talk.”

Losers of five straight, the Jets are hop­ing they can get Sam Darnold back at quar­ter­back af­ter miss­ing the last two games with an in­jured foot, in­clud­ing a 27-13 loss to the Pa­tri­ots last week. The rookie re­mains op­ti­mistic about the Jets’ goals for a sea­son in which coach Todd Bowles’ fu­ture is on the clock.

“Just fin­ish­ing strong, stick­ing to­gether, do­ing what we can to win these last five, and who knows,” Darnold said. “We’ll go from there.”

Some things to know about the Jets and Ti­tans:

Mar­i­ota’s pass­ing

Ti­tans quar­ter­back Mar­cus Mar­i­ota is com­ing off the sec­ond-best sin­gle-game pass­ing per­for­mance in NFL his­tory, com­plet­ing 95.7 per­cent of passes in Hous­ton. He’s on pace for the sin­gle-best per­for­mance in fran­chise his­tory with a 70.3 com­ple­tion per­cent­age this sea­son, a mark cur­rently set by Cody Carl­son at 65.6 per­cent in 1992 with the then-Hous­ton Oilers. Mar­i­ota also ranks fourth in the NFL this sea­son for com­ple­tion per­cent­age.

Strug­gling of­fenses

Whether it has been Darnold or vet­eran Josh McCown un­der cen­ter, the Jets’ of­fense has strug­gled lately to score. Since beat­ing In­di­anapo­lis 42-24 on Oct. 14, New York has just 56 points — a five-game span dur­ing which the Jets have failed to score more than 17 against any op­po­nent. They rank 26th in the league, av­er­ag­ing 20.1 points a game.

That’s still bet­ter than the Ti­tans, who went eight quar­ters with­out a touch­down ear­lier this sea­son, in­clud­ing be­ing shut out by Bal­ti­more in Oc­to­ber. They’re av­er­ag­ing 17.7 points a game, 29th in the league.


Jets line­backer Avery Wil­liamson will be in fa­mil­iar ter­ri­tory when he plays in Ten­nessee. The for­mer Mi­lan High School star spent his first four NFL sea­sons with the Ti­tans be­fore sign­ing a three-year, $22.5 mil­lion deal with New York. Wil­liamson leads the Jets with 117 over­all tack­les and is tied for sec­ond on the team with three sacks.

“It’s def­i­nitely go­ing to be fun go­ing against my old team­mates,” Wil­liamson said. “I haven’t seen them since Jan­uary, so it’ll def­i­nitely be cool, es­pe­cially go­ing on the op­po­site side­line. It’ll be in­ter­est­ing.”

Tough takeaways

The Jets have 15 takeaways this sea­son, which ranks them a re­spectable 15th in the NFL in that cat­e­gory. But turnovers have been tough to come by lately for New York — and it’s on the verge of mak­ing his­tory. The de­fense has not caused a turnover in five con­sec­u­tive games, ty­ing a league record for fu­til­ity.


Losers of five straight, the Jets are hop­ing their rookie quar­ter­back, Sam Darnold, re­turns for to­day’s game af­ter he missed the last two games with an in­jured foot.

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