Titans try to stay in playoff hunt against Giants
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The Tennessee Titans face the challenge of trying to win their final three games to have a chance at the AFC's final wild-card spot, starting Sunday on the road against the New York Giants.
The Titans have won their last two games as they attempt to establish themselves as contenders.
"I think these last couple of weeks is something to build off of," Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota said. "With that being said, it doesn't matter what you've done the last two weeks, it matters what you do on Sunday. It's being able to take what we've done, learn from it, learn from, maybe, the mistakes that we've done, and then just go out there and play again."
Titans head coach Mike Vrabel said the players should be taking the approach that each game is a new challenge.
"I think that would be the message every week for every player," Vrabel said. "Whatever we did last week isn't going to have any bearing on how we play in New York against the Giants.
"It's a different defense, a different team. A team that is trending upward and is really improved over the course of the season. We better be ready for and continue to practice for and prepare for and be ready to play."
The Titans have little margin for error as one of four 7-6 teams in the running for the sixth seed in the AFC. Mariota said the Titans have to make sure they handle their business but not put undue pressure on themselves.
"We've just got to take care of what's going on," he said. "I think if you allow the situation to creep in, and guys start to kind of maybe get a little tense, and don't really play the way that they normally would play. It's being able to find that happy medium of playing loose, understanding the situation, but not allowing that to dictate how you play."
Mariota will be without one of his targets in the passing game after the Titans put tight end Jonnu Smith on injured reserve with a reported MCL injury. Smith's role had increased after Delanie Walker was lost with a broken fibula in the season opener.
While Smith started slowly and was barely part of the offense for the first half of the season, his play improved as the year went on, and he had 20 catches for 258 yards and three touchdowns.
Smith was injured on running back Derrick Henry's 99-yard touchdown run against Jacksonville and had to be helped off the field.
Henry was the AFC Offensive Player of the Week after his franchise-record 238 yards with four touchdowns against the Jaguars. Henry had only the second 99-yard run in NFL history as part of his performance.
The Titans also lost starting right tackle Jack Conklin, whose season ended as well after last Thursday night's win over Jacksonville. Conklin was seen limping with a left knee injury, the same one he had ACL surgery on in January after a playoff loss to New England.
The Giants (5-8) have experienced a bit of a resurgence, winning their last two games and four since their Week 9 bye. Playing a big role is rookie running back Saquon Barkley, the No. 2 overall draft pick in 2018.
Last week in the 40-16 rout of the Washington Redskins, Barkley begame the first Giants running back to rush for 1,000 yards since Ahmad Bradshaw in 2012 and the first rookie in franchise history to accomplish the feat.
"Yeah, getting 1,000 yards in the NFL is an amazing accomplishment and being the first rookie ever for the Giants to do that is even a bigger one," Barkley said. "It's big because even though my name might go in the record book, it's not just myself -- it's the offensive line play and the guys in the running back room, from active to practice squad to (injured reserve), all those guys have been a tremendous help for me throughout this year. We got that record as a whole."
Barkley is also the first Giants player since Eddie Price, who had 971 yards in 1951, to be in the hunt for the NFL rushing title. He had a career-high 170 yards rushing last week to give him 1,753 total yards from scrimmage this season.
"At the end of the day, that doesn't really matter," he said. "It only matters how many wins you get, and we've got to figure out how to continue to get those wins."
The rookie will be trying to do his thing against a Tennessee defense that is allowing 115.2 rushing yards per game.
"I think we're starting to figure out that offense runs through him a little bit," Giants quarterback Eli Manning said. "When we run the ball well, it just sets up everything else, sets up the play-action, sets up so much. ... Once he sees a little crease and gets an opening, he showed some speed."
Updated December 13, 2018