NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee has gone 12 long seasons since last winning the AFC South, and the current Titans are in no mood to be distracted with this big goal so close at hand.
They could clinch at least this franchise’s third playoff berth in four years Sunday by beating the Detroit Lions. But they’ll still need outside help under a trio of scenarios involving losses by Baltimore, Las Vegas, Miami and Cleveland.
First things first. The Titans (9-4) know they must focus on trying to beat the Lions (5-8) because their spot atop the AFC South is only due to having the divisional tiebreaker over Indianapolis.
“When you start looking around and worrying about things that are out of your control or things that don’t really matter to this team, you’re wasting time, you’re wasting your energy, and you’re not focused on the things that you need to focus (on),” Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill said.
The Titans are coming off a perfunctory 31-10 win over Jacksonville, and this will be their final home game of the season if they don’t take care of business with three games remaining.
“Hopefully nobody talks about anything past this week,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said.
The Lions haven’t been eliminated from playoff contention just yet. They’re 10th in the NFC with home games against Tampa Bay and Minnesota still left. Interim coach Darrell Bevell is 1-1 since the Lions fired coach Matt Patricia.
Bevell said people are watching the Lions to see if they keep competing or throw in the towel.
“If I have anything to say about it or these players do, we’re going to keep fighting,” Bevell said. “And 1% (playoff chance)? We’ll take it. I don’t even know if that’s right, but we’ll take it.”
Matthew Stafford was unable to finish Detroit’s 31-24 loss to Green Bay last week because of a rib injury. The Lions plan to wait as long as possible to determine if Stafford would be in or out against the Titans.
If Stafford can’t play, 34-year-old Chase Daniel would be in line for the sixth start of his career with second-year pro David Blough his backup. Daniel has one touchdown and one interception this season in relief with eight career TD passes and six interceptions. Blough lost all five starts last year.
“Stafford is tough as nails, one of the toughest dudes I’ve ever been around, but Chase is ready,” Lions wide receiver and kick returner Jamal Agnew said. “Chase has been established in this league.”
CLOSE TO MORE HISTORY
Derrick Henry is just 8 yards away from matching his career-high of 1,540 yards from last season when he led the league in rushing. The NFL rushing leader also is tied for the most rushing touchdowns with 14.
Even better, the Titans running back needs one rushing TD to become the fourth player in NFL history to run for at least 1,500 yards and 15 TDs in back-to-back seasons, a group that includes Terrell Davis (1997-98), Shaun Alexander (2004-05) and Larry Johnson (2005-06).
HEAVY ON HENRY
The Lions know any chance they have at pulling off an upset would increase if Henry has 60 yards rushing, as he did two weeks ago in a loss to Cleveland, and not 215 yards on the ground as he had last week against Jacksonville.
“We know that the game is going to go through him,” Bevell said. “If you’re able to stop that guy, you’re able to make them be more one-dimensional.”
Focusing on only Henry is risky. The Titans are the only team in the NFL with at least 3,000 yards passing in addition to 2,000 yards rushing this season. Tannehill has a career-high 28 TD passes to nine different Titans.
Tennessee is the sixth NFL team since 1960 to reach those yards through 13 games and the first since the 2013 Eagles.
The Titans are last in the NFL in sacks with 14. Only six teams have allowed more sacks than Detroit with 37, and the Lions could be without center Frank Ragnow who hurt his throat in last week’s game. Ragnow finished but has been told not to talk to protect his vocal chords.
Titans defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons said they want sacks and saw that Tennessee is last in the league. For now, they’re focusing on affecting quarterbacks however possible.
“Me personally, I want sacks because that’s another way you create negative plays,” Simmons said. “Right now we’re going to keep working toward it. We want want to get that negative play, a sack, and maybe get the ball out of the quarterback’s hands.”
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