The Tennessee Titans made it closer than it should have been with three turnovers, they kept their playoff hopes alive with a 23-17 victory over Jacksonville on Christmas Eve.
For a Titans team that hurt its postseason chances last Sunday with an embarrassing loss at Indianpolis, Sunday's victory provided some needed salve to Tennessee's playoff hopes.
“We're alive, and that's all you can ask for right now is just to be alive still. We've got to take care of our business and hope we get the help we need,” guard Jake Scott said.
Indeed, at 8-7, the Titans are in a three-way logjam one game behind the 9-6 Cincinnati Bengals for the sixth and final playoff in the AFC. Tennessee, Oakland and the New York Jets all sit at 8-7 and in the wild-card chase. Unofficially, the Titans would qualify for the postseason in any three-way tie at 9-7 with the Bengals (who must lose to Baltimore), the Raiders or Jets.
The Titans would apparently lose out in a four-way tie between all the teams with the Raiders getting the nod.
Coach Mike Munchak echoed that, saying, "We want to finish 9-7. That's the best we can do and then we can worry about if we win this game or that game, but that's for later."
The Titans will close the regular season at Houston, with the Texans locked into the No. 3 seed in the AFC with no chance to secure a first-round bye or to fall to fourth.
“In the past, we've always been in situations where if we do this or do this, we'll go to the playoffs,” safety Michael Griffin said. “But we can't even worry about all that. We've just got to play our own game.”
Which is what the Titans did on Sunday, exposing a beat-up Jacksonville secondary with Matt Hasselbeck throwing for 350 yards on the day, hitting on 24 of 40 passes.
Jared Cook was the receiving star for the Titans with eight catches for 169 yards and scoring the Titans first touchdown of the day on a 55-yard pass from Matt Hasselbeck that gave Tennessee a 10-0 lead with 4:32 to play in the first quarter.
Exploiting the Jaguars through the air was the plan for Tennessee going in, according Cook.
“We kind of looked at the first 15 script and saw there was a little change up from the normal, and we kind of got excited,” said Cook, who went over 100 yards receiving for the second straight game.
Added receiver Nate Washington, “We knew throughout the week and watching a lot of guys on film that they have a lot of guys in their secondary banged up and on injured reserve and that we were going to have a lot of opportunities. We just had to make sure we came in and did our job.”
With his four catches, Washington became the first Titans receiver since Derrick Mason and Drew Bennett in 2004 to have 70 receptions in a season.
The fast start for the offense supplied what was missing the previous game against Indianapolis, as it allowed Tennessee to dictate the tempo and control the game for the most part.
“It's always a big, but thing if you can go out and start fast and get up early. It kind of gives us confidence that we can go out there and make plays the rest of the game,” receiver Damian Williams said.
Tennessee's defense accomplished its goals for the most part on Sunday as well. While Maurice Jones-Drew did finish with 103 yards on 24 carries, the NFL's leading rusher only hurt the Titans once – on a 10-yard TD run that cut the lead to 10-7 near the end of the first quarter.
“We knew they were going to try to run the ball as many times as they can, and we needed to stop them,” defensive end Dave Ball said. “We worked pretty much all week on tackling and tackling low, which we did a good job of. He was getting pretty frustrated out there because guys just kept on cutting his legs out from under him.”
Special teams got in on the act, as Rob Bironas connected on all three field goal attempts, including a pair of 51-yarders.
What it added up to was a critical win that allows the Titans to play into the final week with playoff life left.
“This is a team that hasn't given up. We might not have played as well as we wanted at certain times, but we've definitely stayed in this thing,” Washington said.