The road doesn't get any easier for the Tennessee Titans.
When the schedule came out back in April, at first glance, Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings, even on the road, was regarded as perhaps a small “break” in the schedule after a brutal September stretch to open the year.
Alas, that is anything but the case as the Titans limp into Sunday's game at 1-3, facing a Vikings team that has already matched its win total from a year ago as they are off to a 3-1 start.
Add to the fact that the Titans will come into Sunday's game without starting quarterback Jake Locker, who is out with a shoulder injury and and likely won't have receiver Kenny Britt, who could miss a second straight week with a left ankle injury.
“They’re off to a great start,” Titans coach Mike Munchak said. “They’re looking at their division thinking, why not them? We need this win badly, so it’s going to be a game where we have to go play our best game, or we’re going to come home disappointed.”
The Titans won't have Locker, who separated his shoulder for the second time in four weeks, so they will turn the reins back to veteran Matt Hasselbeck, who came in last week and went 17 of 25 with two touchdowns, but also had two interceptions returned for touchdowns by the Texans.
For Hasselbeck, who was a starter since 2001 until this year, it will be a matter of jumping back in the saddle, something a full week of reps and preparation as the starter should help.
“I think I'll just go back to the way I've been doing it the last 10 years or so. It was more of an adjustment getting used to the other thing. I'm used to this,” he said.
Hasselbeck maintained a sense of humor regarding his struggles with the two crucial interceptions last week.
“I still feel like I could have played better last week. Minus two plays, I could have had a really good day, but that's kind of how it is,” he said. “It's like saying, I drove my car well all month, but I got into two accidents. You can't get in any. You can't turn the ball over.”
At least, he might have a running game to help him, as Chris Johnson finally resurfaced last Sunday, despite Tennessee's 38-14 loss in Houston. Johnson ran for 141 yards on 25 carries against the Texans, and the Titans are hopeful he can carry that over this week against the Vikings.
The Titans could need all the help they can get on offense, because defensively they have been deplorable. Tennessee has already allowed 151 points in four games this season and have not allowed less than 34 points in any game this season.
The Titans should get middle linebacker Colin McCarthy back after he has missed three games with an ankle injury, though it remains to be seen if he can handle full-time duty in his first week back.
Tennessee will face a different type of challenge this week, with Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin as the Vikings' top weapons for a young quarterback in Christian Ponder.
It might be a little different than facing the likes of Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Matt Stafford and Matt Schaub, but the basic edict for the defense to perform better remains.
“You can't give up touchdowns as soon as you get off the bus,” Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray said.