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Titans finally reach bye week with chance to rest, heal up

(AP Photo/Steven Senne)

By TERESA M. WALKER

AP Pro Football Writer

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) No NFL team needs its bye week as much as the Tennessee Titans.

The Titans (8-4) finally get to rest and heal up some of the many injured players for a stretch run to finish the season. Tennessee has used 86 different players this season, most by an NFL team since at least 1993 and topping the mark of 84 first set by Miami in 2019. They've also started 49 different players.

Currently, 17 Titans are on injured reserve, and coach Mike Vrabel had 16 on his injury report with five ruled out before flying to New England for Sunday's 36-13 loss to the Patriots. Combine those groups, 10 have started games this season.

The injuries finally have taken a toll on the field with the Titans losing two straight and falling from the top spot in the AFC to third. The Titans still have a two-game lead plus the head-to-head tiebreaker over Indianapolis (6-6) in the AFC South with five games remaining.

"I'm hopeful that there will be some guys that are eligible to return, can return, and then we'll go from there," Vrabel said Monday. "There are some of the guys that are on injured reserve. We'll see where they're at. But we're going to need everybody that we can have."

If Vrabel can start getting Titans back, the schedule couldn't be much easier giving them a chance to improve playoff seeding. They play only one team currently above .500 down the stretch, and that's San Francisco on Dec. 23.

WHAT'S WORKING

The defense. Even though the Titans needed a safety blitz by Kevin Byard for one of their two sacks, they held New England to five field goals, three of those on drives inside the Tennessee 20. But both linebacker Harold Landry and defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons have been held without a sack in two straight games.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

The passing game. Not only are Julio Jones and A.J. Brown both on injured reserve, three other receivers also are on that list and unavailable. Ryan Tannehill has been sacked an NFL-worst 33 times and has been intercepted 13 times - five of those over this two-game skid. That's tied for the second most in his career, four off his second season in the NFL when Tannehill had 17 in 2013 with Miami.

Vrabel said Tannehill is among those needing to improve, specifically with his decision-making and ball placement.

STOCK UP

With the offensive line opening holes, Dontrell Hilliard and D'Onta Foreman proved they can help replace Derrick Henry as they each topped 100 yards rushing and helped the Titans to their best rushing game this season, finishing 270 yards on 39 carries.

Hillard ran 12 times for 131 yards and a TD, while Foreman had 19 carries for 109 yards. It was the first time since Chris Johnson and LenDale White each topped the 100-yard mark on Thanksgiving Day in 2008 that Titans had a pair of backs run for at least 100 yards in the same game.

Ball security remains a top priority with Hillard and Foreman each losing fumbles at crucial points against the Patriots.

STOCK DOWN

Randy Bullock. The kicker had settled the position for the Titans as their third kicker this season, but missing an extra point and a field goal with each clanking off the right upright cost Tennessee four points and a halftime lead.

INJURED

The Titans declared five out against New England, including starting RG Nate Davis (concussion), LBs David Long (hamstring) and Rashaan Evans (ankle), DT Teair Tart and RB Jeremy McNichols (concussion). TE Tommy Hudson and rookie LB Monty Rice each hurt ankles. CB Jackrabbit Jenkins was shaken up in the third quarter.

The roster moves continued Monday as the Titans placed safety Kevin Byard on the reserve/COVID-19 list, though they did activate linebacker Joe Jones from that list to the active roster.

KEY NUMBER

Minus 7. The Titans led the NFL in 2020 with a turnover margin of plus-11. After nine turnovers in two games, they have fallen to 27th ahead of only Jacksonville and the Jets.

NEXT STEPS

Heal up and rest. Then see who might be available as they prepare to host the Jaguars on Dec. 12. Jones and safety Dane Cruikshank are among those eligible to be activated off injured reserve. Linebacker Bud Dupree could return Dec. 19 for a trip to Pittsburgh, while Brown is out at least until Dec. 23 when San Francisco visits.

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Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker

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Updated November 29, 2021

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