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VOL. 132 | NO. 204 | Friday, October 13, 2017

AFC South Membership Only Thing Saving Titans

Terry McCormick, Nashville Sports Correspondent

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Right now, the best thing that can be said about the Tennessee Titans is they play in the AFC South, where someone’s mediocrity will be rewarded with a playoff berth come Dec. 31.

After the past two weeks – a 57-14 shellacking at Houston followed by an abysmal offensive performance in Sunday’s 16-10 loss in Miami – that’s about all the Titans have to hang their hat on in what began as a promising season with strong playoff aspirations.

Now fans are rushing to hit the panic button faster than a blitzing linebacker zeroing in on Matt Cassel.

Titans backup QB Matt Cassel has been unimpressive in second-half relief against the Texans and starting at Miami. The 13-year veteran hasn’t been a full-time starter since 2010 with the Kansas City Chiefs. This is his second season with the Titans, and Sunday’s game at Miami was his second start with the team. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

What lies ahead for the Titans, however, is an opportunity to right the wrongs of the past two games and to do so before a national television audience when they host the Indianapolis Colts on Monday Night Football.

When this game was scheduled, ESPN was no doubt anticipating a matchup between the Colts’ Andrew Luck and the Titans’ Marcus Mariota. But with Luck still out with a shoulder injury and Mariota questionable again with his balky left hamstring, viewers could be treated to a matchup of Jacoby Brissett vs. Cassel.

This one just might challenge the lowest-rated Monday night games of all time, if what we saw this past week is any indication.

Granted, the Colts won with Brissett on Sunday, but they needed overtime to escape the hapless 49ers at home on the day they retired Peyton Manning’s No. 18. The Colts’ QB play in Luck’s absence is bad enough that one has to wonder if owner Jim Irsay was tempted to ask Manning to put a jersey on instead of retiring one.

Which brings us back to the Titans and their own quarterback dilemma.

The Titans with Mariota under center are good enough to contend for the division crown. But they haven’t exactly been a juggernaut without him. And while it is easy to lay blame at the feet – or arm – of Cassel, the rest of the team has hardly risen to higher level in Mariota’s absence.

But as mentioned above, the saving grace for the Titans during this Mariota-less stretch is the division in which they play. Even at 2-3 overall, the Titans are one win from moving back into a share of the division lead, currently held by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Yes, those Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Jaguars embarrassed the Steelers in Pittsburgh on Sunday, forcing five interceptions by Ben Roethlisberger. But, just one week before they lost to the Jets, and of course, were routed by the Titans back in the good ole days of Week 2.

As for the fourth team in the AFC South, the Houston Texans, they fell back below .500 just a week after crushing the Titans.

The good news in Houston is that rookie quarterback DeShaun Watson looks like the real deal. The bad news is that J.J. Watt is again lost for the season due to an injury.

While Houston’s defense did just fine without Watt last year, they had no answers for the Chiefs on Sunday night.

So, what does all this mean for the Titans?

Back-to-back face plants can easily become a thing of the past if they can find a way to win against Indianapolis. That’s no small feat either for the Titans, who last defeated the Colts in 2011 when Indy was trying to lose games in order to secure Luck with the first pick in the 2012 draft.

Not only have they never beaten Luck in this wretched streak, but they also have losses to Curtis Painter and Josh Freeman in Luck’s absence. That alone says they should not take a Brissett-led Colts team lightly.

The Titans’ flaws have been greatly exposed, as they have no consistency on offense without Mariota, and the defense seems wildly inconsistent from week to week.

But warts and all, the Titans have a chance Monday night to re-establish themselves as a contender in the division with a win over the Colts – something they haven’t accomplished since 2011.

Those are all big ifs, and probably hinge quite a bit on the status of Mariota’s hamstring and whether or not he can return to the lineup.

So, while the rest of the country won’t exactly be ready for some football involving a pair of AFC South lightweights, it is still a prime-time opportunity for the Titans to right their season before it slips completely away.

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com

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