Tennessee Titans: Why veteran leadership is under the microscope Saturday

With a little help, the 8-6 Tennessee Titans are now just two wins away from back to back playoff appearances, thanks to their current season-high tying three game winning streak.

After rallying from a 16 point deficit to defeat the New York Jets three weeks ago, the Titans were dominant in their last two victories….steamrolling the Jaguars and New York Giants the last two weeks by a combined score of 47-9.

Derrick Henry has been the catalyst on offense, racking up a franchise record 408 yards and 6 touchdowns in that two game span. The defense has allowed just seven points the last 12 quarters, and that came in garbage time late in their blowout victory over Jacksonville.

As a result, they once again sit atop the league as the stingiest scoring defense.

With both sides of the ball clicking on all cylinders, most fans and many in the media look at this week’s match up against the injury-ravaged Washington Redskins as nothing more than a formality.

After all, the Titans are 10 point favorites and playing at home where they have one of the best records in the league the last two seasons. Oh, and by the way, the Redskins are down to their 4th string quarterback, Josh Johnson, who started his first game in seven years last week.

While listening to several local sports talk radio shows this week, fans were more interested in whether or not next week’s regular season finale against the Colts would be flexed to the Sunday Night Football slot than the game on Saturday.

While fans, and the team alike, have every reason to be confident, the Titans of all teams should know to not take the Redskins for granted this weekend….

Especially the veterans.

The players that were around for the down years (Marcus Mariota, Taylor Lewan, Jurrell Casey, Derrick Morgan, Brian Orakpo) know all too well that nothing is guaranteed in this league.

Two years ago, after going 5-27 the prior two years, the surprise Tennessee Titans were the toast of the town after impressive and improbable back to back victories over the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos and playoff-bound Kansas City Chiefs.

Tennessee was 8-6 and two wins away from their first AFC South division title since 2008.

On Christmas Eve (of all days), the Titans faced the lowly 2-12 Jaguars in Jacksonville, and were blown out 38-17. Marcus Mariota was knocked out of the game with a fractured fibula, and the Titans were knocked out of playoff contention.

Last season the same Titans team was flying high at 8-4 after a victory over the division rival Houston Texans. Their two game west coast trip to Arizona (5-9) and San Francisco (3-10) was supposed to be a playoff coronation at worst, and a chance to seize the AFC South title at best.

Tennessee lost both games and three straight before pulling it together in what was a playoffs or bust game against the AFC South champion Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Titans learned from their 2016 experience in Jacksonville, and not only did they not squander the opportunity, but they went on to defeat the heavily favored Kansas City Chiefs the following week in the wild-card round.

Tennessee’s head coach Mike Vrabel, offensive coordinator Matt Lafleur, and defensive coordinator Dean Pees were not on the staff that suffered those gut-wrenching losses the past two season, so it is incumbent on the veteran players that were on the roster to practice and play with a sense of urgency this week.

They understand that each week is it’s on challenge, and no team can be taken for granted…regardless of their record or injury situation.

Let’s not forget, the Redskins are indeed depleted, but they are also 7-7 and right in the thick of an NFC playoff berth themselves. They have nothing to lose and everything to play for.

Something the teams that upset Tennessee in crucial games late in the season did not have.

This game can’t be put on the shoulders of a new coaching staff still looking to find their footing in this league. This win or go home game is on the veterans that know what it’s like to squander their opportunity.

This is Tennessee’s third consecutive win to get in season, and the veterans that were around for the first two should be held accountable if things go south Saturday afternoon.

Because they should know better by now.

follow @plcolter

 


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