Titans face must-win vs. grounded Jets
At the bottom of a logjam of AFC teams that are either 6-5 or 5-6, the Tennessee Titans have virtually no margin for error with five games remaining on their schedule.
In order to make the playoffs, the Titans (5-6) would probably have to run the table with what is one of the weakest remaining schedules in the league, including Sunday's matchup vs. the 3-8 New York Jets in Nashville, Tenn.
Linebacker Brian Orakpo didn't mince words, saying that the Titans have to have the mindset of winning all five games in order to find the postseason.
"Absolutely. I'm not even looking at four of the next five," Orakpo said. "We need to look at winning all the rest. We have five games. We have to start being realistic about ourselves and stop all that BS answers when it comes to the scenarios. To give ourselves a chance, 10-6 looks pretty good to me, and we have to make sure that's a reality and not just some talk. It starts with the Jets this week. It means absolutely nothing if we don't get back to the basics and start with these Jets."
"These Jets" are currently on a five-game skid and are one of three teams that could be starting a backup quarterback this week. Of late, the Jets have been starting backup Josh McCown as rookie Sam Darnold has been out with a foot injury. Both were limited on Wednesday, but either way, the Titans should have an advantage entering Sunday's game.
The Jets are a month away from missing the playoffs for an eighth straight season and possibly searching for a new head coach as the criticism intensifies on fourth-year boss Todd Bowles.
Darnold is injured and trying to lobby his way back into the lineup after being limited in practice on Wednesday.
It was not so long ago that the Jets scored a deceiving 42 points on the Indianapolis Colts, misleading only because half of those points came via the foot of rookie kicker Jason Myers, who made seven field goals.
Since then, the offense has cratered considerably even before Darnold's foot landed in a walking boot. Darnold was struggling with half of his 14 interceptions in the losses to Minnesota, Chicago and Miami that followed the win over Indianapolis.
During their skid, the Jets are averaging 11.2 points with one touchdown or fewer in the last four games since tight end Chris Herndon and Darnold reached the end zone in the Minnesota loss.
"I can't speak for the room. I think for myself, I'm frustrated. It's frustrating," wide receiver Quincy Enunwa said. "You put your all in this game and the results don't come out the way you want them to, but I still believe in my brothers, still believe in the guys, there's no reason not to. We fight, that's something I'm proud of them for. I wish we all collectively did a better job of finishing those games and executing the game plan."
Things haven't exactly been rosy for the Titans either. Two blowout losses in the AFC South to the Colts and Texans on the road have all but ended their division title hopes. The defense, which had been the team's anchor much of the season, broke down in both games as the Titans were outscored a collective 72-27.
"The past two weeks we haven't been ourselves. Everybody just has to play better. I'm speaking mostly about defense," Orakpo said. "The past two weeks have not met our standard. That's something we have to address. We all have to play at a higher standard, and we will do that this week. We will get back to the basics, because honestly when you look at it, and when we watch film and break it down as a group, we literally are beating ourselves. I know it sounds cliche, but honestly we are just doing things that are not ourselves that we were not doing earlier in the season."
Back to the basics, means sound assignment football. Orakpo says the Titans have been trying too hard to make a big play -- the Titans haven't forced a turnover in three weeks -- and that has caused mistakes like being out of position and missing tackles in the process.
"I just feel like we're trying to do too much. In the game, the momentum is going, and now is the time where we want to make plays to benefit our team, and guys are just trying to go out there and do things to make that big play, get that big turnover, and sometimes we get kind of misaligned, or miss our gap or miss our read. And that's what happens with the gashes," he said. "We just need to get back to the basics. We need to trust all 11, all 10 guys that are out there plus yourself. And that goes for myself included. We all want to make that big play and do something that is best for our team, and we've just got to trust our teammates like we'd been doing the previous games and previous weeks when we were pretty consistent. This past two weeks has not been our standard."
Updated November 30, 2018