The Tennessee Titans are in a position they have not seen in quite a while in the AFC South.
They not only stand 2-1 overall heading into Sunday’s game with the Houston Texans, but at 1-0 with a road in Jacksonville already to their credit, the Titans could be in position to take control of the division if they can muster their second division road win in three weeks.
A victory would improve the Titans to 3-1 overall and have them at 2-0 inside the AFC South without even so much as one home division game played as yet. Needless to say, the importance of Sunday’s game is not lost on the team.
“That’s what you’ve got to do to win the division,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. “You’ve got to win games in the division. You’ve got to win them on the road. That’s what Houston has done to win the last two years. That’s typically the case. These are the kind of games that are important.”
The Titans know full well how much division games count, as last year their 9-7 mark matched the Texans overall, but their paltry 2-4 record (with no road victories) inside the division cost them the tiebreaker and a chance at the postseason.
“Coach Mularkey talks about it all the time,” Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota said. “Our goal is to win our division. We have an opportunity this Sunday to maybe get ahead a little bit, and hopefully, we’ll take that opportunity and make the most of it.”
Winning in the franchise’s former home city of Houston has not been as easy task in recent years. The last time Tennessee won in Houston was on New Year’s Day 2012, as they finished up the 2011 season. How long ago was that? Mike Munchak was head coach, and Matt Hasselbeck was the starting quarterback that day.
Titans teams more recent than that have found a way wilt in division games, and in Houston where last year’s club fought back from a 17-0 deficit only to lose to the Texans on punt return touchdown by Will Fuller.
Judging by the past couple of games, though, this Titans team looks much different. The defense has played much better after allowing the Raiders to rule them in the opener, and the offense has put up 70 points in wins over Jacksonville and Seattle. A resurgent run game has been the catalyst for that, with the Titans gaining 179 and 195 yards on the ground in their two wins.
Special teams, which was a glaring hole in recent years, has been shored up as well and now even provides a threat on returns with rookie Adoree’ Jackson.
“I think guys trust in all three phases,” Mariota said. “We know the defense is going to do their job, and specail teams will find ways to make plays, and we’ve just got to find way to make plays (on offense) and grind it out.”
Walden sat out Wednesday’s work as well with a groin issue. He had had an issue with that injury at one point during training camp.
Mularkey already has declared rookie receiver Corey Davis out for the second straight week and strong safety Johnathan Cyprien out for the third consecutive week with hamstring injuries.
Tight end Delanie Walker, given a day off to rest his injured hamstring, was a full participant in Thursday’s practice.
Linebacker Erik Walden was back at practice after resting his injured groin Wednesday. He did limited work on Thursday.