NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP)The Tennessee Titans are not used to losing, not with the NFL’s second-longest active winning streak at six straight seasons.
Nobody even remains on this roster from the previous time the Titans lost four straight.
Two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons is determined to help put an end to this skid Saturday and insists the Titans remain a tight group even after the skid reached four straight with a 17-14 loss last week to the Los Angeles Chargers.
”We’re going to play together, we’re going to play for each other and that’s all that matters,” Simmons said. ”I don’t we don’t care about the outside noise. And, you know, we’re going to find a way to get a win.”
Hosting the Houston Texans (1-12-1) would seem to be the perfect opponent for the Titans (7-7).
They’ve won five of the past six against the team that replaced them in Houston. The Titans also need to stop the slide that has turned a four-game lead atop the AFC South to one over Jacksonville with three games remaining entering Week 16.
These Texans have lost nine straight, but they pushed Kansas City to overtime before losing 30-24 last week.
They also came up just short at Dallas the week before, and some Texans growing up with others healthier. First-year Texans head coach Lovie Smith expects a different outcome from Oct. 30 when the Titans piled up 314 yards rushing in a 17-10 win in Houston.
”We feel like we’ll be healthier starting with that,” Smith said. ”We didn’t play our best ball last time, and we’re playing better football right now.”
The Titans ruled out quarterback Ryan Tannehill with an injured right ankle with coach Mike Vrabel declining Thursday to discuss the veteran’s status past Saturday. That means rookie quarterback Malik Willis will make his third start this season and second against Houston.
Tennessee signed Joshua Dobbs to back up Willis. The rookie threw only 10 passes in the first game between these division rivals with just one after halftime. But Willis was 3 of 4 for 20 yards while running once for 8 yards replacing Tannehill for one series last week coming off the bench.
Willis will be playing behind an offensive line with two starters placed on injured reserve in consecutive days. Center Ben Jones’ season ended Thursday after his second concussion in a month, and right guard Nate Davis was added to injured reserve Friday with an ankle issue. The other three starting offensive linemen also are on the Titans’ lengthy injury report.
Tennessee’s best approach likely will be a repeat of that first win – hand the ball to two-time NFL rushing leader Derrick Henry as much as possible. He is the first man to ever run for at least 200 yards in four straight games against the same opponent, and he ran 32 times for 219 yards and two TDs in October.
Henry is averaging 114 yards in his 11 games against the Texans despite starting only six of those.
Royce Freeman was promoted from the Houston practice squad to make his season debut last week after leading rushing Dameon Pierce was placed on injured reserve. Freeman had 11 carries for 51 yards against Kansas City and could get more work Saturday.
”(He’s) hot Dameon Pierce, but when you come in in a backup role, to have that kind of production, it’s pretty good,” Smith said.
Freeman was a third-round pick in 2018 and spent his first three seasons with the Broncos before splitting last season between Carolina and Houston. He has 1,407 career yards rushing.
The Titans could get a trio of starters back on defense. Lineman Denico Autry has missed the past four games with an injured left knee, and he had been their sack leader until Simmons got a sack last week pushing him to 7 1/2 for the season.
Safety Amani Hooker, who missed last week with an injured knee, returned to practice. Inside linebacker Zach Cunningham was activated Friday from injured reserve after missing the past six games with an injured elbow.
Saturday could be the coldest home game in franchise history. Two-time All-Pro safety Kevin Byard won’t blame Titans fans for staying home and watching on TV, saying he probably would too.
One plus? Communicating on defense should be easier. Byard said, ”We’ll have the advantage, that’s how I feel.”
This will be the first cold game this season for the Texans, who play in a domed stadium. These conditions are nothing new for Smith, who coached the Chicago Bears for nine seasons.
”This is what I’ve found from being up north, people say you get used to it,” Smith said. ”I never got used to it. Every day it was cold in Chicago, I was cold.”
AP Sports Writer Kristie Rieken contributed to this report.
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