Jaguars try to spoil Titans' must-win situation
With all the AFC's playoff scenarios, the math is simple for the Tennessee Titans.
Win Saturday or nothing else matters.
Tennessee ruined the chance to control its playoff fate with two straight losses, and none more painful than the last to the previously winless Colts. Now the Titans (7-7) are looking up at the New York Jets and Cincinnati Bengals needing lots of help to earn a playoff berth under first-year coach Mike Munchak.
Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck says the Titans have work to do after the loss to the Colts cost them control of the AFC's sixth and final playoff spot.
''We're disappointed about some of the things that have happened this year being 7-7,'' Hasselbeck said. ''That's all behind us. As crazy as it sounds, we can be really proud if we're able to go 9-7 because of what we accomplish the next two weeks. I think that's the mindset right now for everybody. Get better, win this game ... then hopefully getting the chance.''
Hosting the Jaguars (4-10) in the home finale offers a painful reminder just how precious each game is. Jacksonville opened the regular season beating the Titans 16-14, spoiling both Hasselbeck's debut with his new team and Chris Johnson's first game back with his new $53.5 million contract.
Now Jacksonville limps in with an NFL-high 22 players on injured reserve. The team has been sold with new owner Shahid Khan taking over in January, coach Jack Del Rio is gone with Mel Tucker 1-2 as the interim coach. Helping Maurice Jones-Drew, the NFL's leading rusher with 1,334 yards, finish with the rushing title and playing spoiler are about all they have to play for now.
''If we get it, we get it,'' Jones-Drew said of the rushing title. ''If not, I hope we win the next two games. I'd rather win the next two than not. It's really about winning right now.''
Winning now is why Munchak is sticking with Hasselbeck at quarterback, even though rookie Jake Locker was put in to try and rally the Titans in a 27-13 loss to Indianapolis. Munchak said he is going with the quarterback he believes gives the Titans the best chance to win, especially against a Jacksonville defense that ranks fourth-stingiest in the NFL giving up 307.4 yards per game.
''We just think that this is the best thing to do for the team right now,'' Munchak said.
The strained left calf that had Hasselbeck limping at Indianapolis has healed up enough that the 13-year veteran isn't listed on the injury report. Hasselbeck said he likely just needs to be more mentally tough and not worry about hurting the calf muscle again. He threw for 223 yards against the Colts with two interceptions and is 76 yards passing shy of his eighth 3,000-yard passing season.
The bigger injury concern for Tennessee is Johnson's right ankle. Both he and Munchak expect the running back to play, and Johnson is 70 yards from reaching 1,000 yards rushing this season. Johnson did not practice Tuesday and did only some individual work Wednesday. Johnson said the Jaguars' defensive ranking means they have the Titans' respect.
''We've got our work cut out for us,'' Johnson said.
Tennessee's defense faces the bigger challenge in Jones-Drew. He ran for 97 yards against them, mostly in the first half, of the opener, and he has been even better in his last two visits to Nashville running for 177 and 186 yards. Rookie Blaine Gabbert has thrown for only 11 touchdowns since taking over as the starting quarterback, and he was sacked five times in last week's 41-14 loss to Atlanta.
That's why the Titans know they must contain Jones-Drew. It's such a challenge Titans safety Michael Griffin said it tops any playoff worries after Tennessee gave up 205 yards rushing to the Colts.
''Jones-Drew is a tough runner, a strong guy. He can catch and he can run the ball. We know the offense, it's going off him, and that's what we want to do. The main part is stop him early,'' Griffin said.
Tucker isn't changing his offense either, not at this point in the season.
''MoJo is going to get his touches, and I think that's obvious,'' Tucker said. ''Our offense is predicated on running the ball and he's a major part of that, and so he'll get his carries.''
The Titans are 4-3 at home this season, and bouncing back could be challenging with more than 20 players on the roster in the final year of their contracts.
''This team can do anything,'' Griffin said. ''It's all about what we put our minds to. So it's the last home game of the season and we play this game to win. Maybe some of us, our last time playing at LP Field. There's going to be a lot of things going through our minds. The main objective is to try and get a win.''
AP Sports Writer Mark Long in Jacksonville, Fla., contributed to this report.
Follow Teresa M. Walker on Twitter at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker