Champion Titans seeking homefield
Posted: Friday, December 12, 2008 7:18 pm
By: By KRISTIE RIEKEN, AP Sports Writer
HOUSTON (AP) — In the week leading up to Houston’s first meeting with Tennessee, many Texans players were living without electricity and dealing with extensive damage to their homes in the wake of powerful Hurricane Ike.
Things are much better for the Texans as they prepare to host the Titans, having won three in a row, capped by a last-second road victory over Green Bay.
The 12-1 Titans have clinched the AFC South championship and a bye in the first round of the playoffs, but won’t be slowing down as they look to secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Titans, who have won eight straight on the road, could do it this week with a win coupled with a Pittsburgh loss.
“There’s definitely going to be no letup,” linebacker Keith Bulluck said. “Someone has to lose and we have to win. … We’re going to take care of Houston and let everything else take care of itself.”
Tennessee knows this is a better team than the one it faced in September. The Texans were forced to play their first three games on the road and they started 0-4, but have since won six of their last nine.
“They put 500 yards of offensive up against the Packers in a game the Packers needed to win,” Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. “They’re different. They came here under a very difficult set of circumstances early in the season with the hurricane. They’ve gotten all those things put behind them for the most part and they’re healthy and they’re playing very well.”
Coach Gary Kubiak won’t make excuses for his team’s performance in that ugly 31-12 loss, but did acknowledge it was a tough time.
“Trying to get guys ready to play when their families were having problems at home … was the most difficult thing,” he said. “As far as doing our job and getting ready to go play the football game, we handled that. We just didn’t play good enough to win.”
The Texans have been eliminated from playoff contention, but are still trying to finish with their first winning record after going 8-8 last season. They’ll have to win each of their remaining games to do that.
“They can still put together a winning season, so I think that’s what they’re looking to do,” Bulluck said. “They would have to get a win against us in order to keep continuing with that, so we definitely know they’re going to come out gunning.”
Added Fisher: “I’ll perceive last week’s game as their championship game and this week as their Super Bowl. It’s that kind of approach that I think they’re going to take.”
Kubiak hasn’t beaten the Titans since taking over the Texans and they’ve won seven straight against their division foe. Houston’s last and only wins against Tennessee came when it swept the 2004 series.
“They’ve just outcoached us,” Kubiak said. “They’ve outplayed us. They’ve done a heck of a job. They’ve got a fine football team. They’re very consistent. They don’t hurt themselves. So, you’re going to have to be extremely good to beat them.”
Houston was buoyed last week by the return of Matt Schaub, who had missed the previous four games with a knee injury. He returned to throw for a franchise-record 414 yards and help Houston gain 549 total yards, also a franchise best.
While the Texans put up eye-popping passing numbers, the Titans do most of their damage on the ground.
Tennessee put up 527 yards rushing in the last two games, but perhaps even more impressive is its run defense, which has allowed just 58 yards in the last two.
That should make for an interesting matchup this week between two of the top runners in the AFC. Tennessee’s Chris Johnson and Houston’s Steve Slaton, a pair of rookies, have each gained more than 1,000 yards and are second and third, respectively, in the AFC.
Slaton is the only player to run for more than 100 yards this season against Tennessee after gaining 116 yards earlier this season in his first NFL start.
Kubiak sees a lot of similarities between the players.
“They’re both big play guys from a speed standpoint,” Kubiak said. “When they came out, that was the strength of both of them. I think the fact that how big of a factor they’ve played on their teams this year so quickly has probably been a surprise to everybody, but (they are) two fine young players that have bright futures.”
Slaton’s development has been key for a team that has been shaky at the position because of injuries since 2006, and hadn’t had a 1,000 rusher since 2004.
“(Slaton’s) meant a whole lot to our whole team,” Schaub said. “Just being able to get him the football and him being patient enough to let the holes develop. He creates a lot of mismatches in the passing game when teams try to match him up with a linebacker.”