NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The resilient and increasingly confident Tennessee Titans are targeting the playoffs now rather than waiting for the future.
”We want to win the division,” quarterback Marcus Mariota said. ”We have an opportunity to do that. We are in the thick of it. We cannot look at the big picture. We have to focus on taking it one game at a time. Get our mind focused for Jacksonville. We will see where the cards fall and hopefully we will be where we want to be at the end of the year.”
Yes, the Titans are setting their sights high considering they haven’t made the postseason since 2008 and their last playoff victory came in January 2004.
Winning four of five can do that for a team, especially with a three-game winning streak that includes a 13-10 win over the defending Super Bowl champs in Denver and a fourth-quarter rally in the coldest game in franchise history to beat the Chiefs 19-17 in Kansas City.
The last two easily are the most impressive, not because of who Tennessee beat to improve to 8-6 and remain tied atop the AFC South with Houston. The Titans shook off Mariota’s worst game as a pro to beat Denver and overcame three turnovers, a 14-point deficit after the first quarter and a failed 2-point conversion to win in Kansas City.
They also lost two defensive starters to injuries when cornerback Jason McCourty left early with a bruised chest and sprained shoulder before safety Da’Norris Searcy had a concussion.
Any of those mistakes would have crushed the Titans’ thoughts of a comeback in previous seasons.
”We’re learning a lot about ourselves, what we’re capable of doing, what we can and cannot do,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey said Monday with his players given the day off. ”That’s going to be a weekly thing for this team until we get where we want to go.”
Against the Chiefs, the Titans fell behind by double digits for the fifth time on the road this season.
They won for only the second time in that situation thanks to a defense with five rookies on the field after those injuries. The Titans had a goal-line stand at their own 1 in the second quarter, held the Chiefs to a field goal after reaching the Titans 16 late in the quarter and got the ball back with rookie cornerback LeShaun Sims’ interception in the end zone in the third.
Mariota shook off a fumble and an interception in driving the Titans to 12 points in the fourth quarter for his fourth comeback victory in 26 career starts.
”That was big for this team to know we can do something like that in a tough environment,” Mularkey said.
Tennessee visits Jacksonville (2-12) on Saturday and the Jaguars interim coach Doug Marrone, who interviewed for the Titans’ job in January.
Tennessee routed the Jaguars 36-22 on Oct. 27. But this franchise was thumped last season by Miami in its first game with an interim coach and has a string of similar losses to struggling teams in recent years. Mularkey, fired by Jacksonville after going 2-14 in 2012, plans to make clear how close the Jaguars have been this season with seven losses by a touchdown or less.
”We will not have a letdown for any reason,” Mularkey said.
Sweeping Jacksonville for the first time since 2008 would set up a regular season finale Jan. 1 in Nashville against Houston with the division title and playoff berth at stake.
”They’ve earned the right to be here right now,” Mularkey said. ”We’ll see where it goes from here.”
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