Rested Titans prepping to host Bengals in divisional game
By TERESA M. WALKER
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The Tennessee Titans are rested and healthier than they've been in weeks, maybe months. They also know their next opponent.
Now they get a chance to prove how well they used their bye week as the AFC's top seed.
"I guess we'll see on Saturday if it was enough," Titans coach Mike Vrabel said Monday.
The Titans (12-5) returned to work Sunday after three days off while not knowing their opponent. No. 4 seed Cincinnati (11-7) is locked in as their divisional opponent after Kansas City's win over Pittsburgh on Sunday night.
Tennessee coaches did some prep work last week on the Bengals, one of two opponents in the AFC playoff field the Titans didn't play this season. The Titans last faced the Bengals in Cincinnati in 2020, and then-rookie Joe Burrow helped hand Tennessee its second loss t hat season, 31-20 on Nov. 1.
Vrabel noted the Titans didn't have many answers for Cincinnati in 2020.
"That was a long time ago, but obviously we're very aware of the type of football team that this is and how good they are," Vrabel said.
This will be the second playoff game between these former AFC Central rivals and first in 31 years. The Bengals won the first game 41-14 on Jan. 6, 1991 when the Titans were the Houston Oilers, then didn't win another postseason game until downing the Raiders 26-19 in the wild-card round to finally snap their playoff drought.
Tennessee and Green Bay, the NFC's No. 1 seed, each had the latest byes in the regular season, both Dec. 5. The Titans also had a long weekend after beating San Francisco on Dec. 23, and now they've had another bye as the AFC's top seed.
It's also been 11 weeks since Derrick Henry, the 2020 AP NFL Offensive Player of the Year, was placed on injured reserve with a broken right foot. The Titans opened the 21-day window for Henry to practice on Jan. 5 to gauge whether he can be activated for the postseason.
"This will be a big week of practice for us to continue to get Derrick back out there and get him acclimated to run the football and seeing blocking schemes and seeing where guys are and seeing where the cuts are," Vrabel said.
D'Onta Foreman and Dontrell Hilliard, who filled in over the final nine games of the season, combined for 189 carries. Along with Henry, that gives the Titans a trio of running backs with fresh legs for an offense that ranked fifth in rushing with a league-high 551 attempts.
Vrabel said the Titans must run the ball.
"We are going to need to do that to be who we are and be at our best and not be one-dimensional, to be able to run it to set up things and be able to run our offense," Vrabel said. "That has always been critical."
The Titans are 2-3 in the postseason at Nissan Stadium, with the losses all at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens. They haven't won a playoff game at home since edging Pittsburgh 34-31 in overtime in the divisional round in January 2003.
Cincinnati has never won on the road in seven playoff games.
Tennessee sold out Saturday's game before the opponent was set, and Vrabel is expecting an amazing atmosphere for kickoff.
"It is playoff football in January," Vrabel said. "We have had amazing support the entire season. ... Hopefully they are ready to get back into our stadium and have an atmosphere that helps us win on Sunday."
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Updated January 17, 2022