Titans look to keep rolling against struggling Commanders
By STEPHEN WHYNO
LANDOVER, Md. (AP) Coming off consecutive victories to get them to .500, coach Mike Vrabel told his Tennessee Titans there was much more to accomplish because half the NFL is 2-2 at this point.
It's actually just below half, but who's counting?
Now facing the Washington Commanders, who have lost three in a row and struggled to find their footing, the Titans are seeking bigger and better things after getting their season on the right track.
"We flipped the narrative from the first two weeks, but really (it is) just being able to keep the trend going and keep winning," veteran wide receiver Robert Woods said. "The first quarter of this season, the first four, doesn't matter. It's a long season, we got to win this one at Washington. That's the most important one lined up and really once you get that ball rolling and keep the momentum, have the guys playing fast, playing confident and having fun, I think that's what we need to see."
Derrick Henry is rolling for the Titans after he put up his first 100-yard rushing game of the season to help beat the AFC South-rival Indianapolis Colts. They've also started fast and become more efficient than in season-opening losses to the New York Giants and Buffalo Bills.
Tennessee is essentially one field goal from 3-1, and Washington probably is fortunate not to be 0-4. At 1-3, the Commanders don't have the luxury of thinking it's a long season with opportunities to grow.
If they're going to contend for a playoff spot in the NFC, they need to start winning now.
"Patience only lasts so long," quarterback Carson Wentz said. "You have to find a way to convert, stay on the field, score touchdowns and score points: win some ballgames. There is no sense of panic or chaos around here. We are going into Week 5. We know how we played and it wasn't up to our standards, but at the same time we have a ton of confidence."
Changes could be coming for Washington if the losing continues. The Titans, on the other hand, are building plenty of confidence.
"We're kind of getting things rolling," safety Kevin Byard said. "But we're far from perfect. We're far from anywhere we want to be. We're just going to keep trying to improve every single week."
One advantage the Titans have this week is they're very familiar with Wentz from facing him twice last season when he was in the division with the Colts. Tennessee swept Indianapolis.
Wentz has been sacked a league-high 17 times and knows all about Tennessee's defenders.
"They're a good defense, they're coached well, they fly around and they make a lot of plays," Wentz said. "Their front is very talented. We feel we have gone up against some really good fronts lately. I am confident the guys will be ready for that. It's a good team that is very disciplined on that side of the ball with their zone drops and how they want to be in the right spots."
Even though the Titans lost Pro Bowl outside linebacker Harold Landry to a torn ACL just before the season, they still have seven sacks, led by second-year linebacker Rashad Weaver with four.
STARTS WITH HENRY
When Henry, a two-time NFL rushing champ, is running well, the Titans' offense clicks much better.
Henry also is becoming a much bigger option in the short passing game. He didn't have a catch through each of the first two games, both losses.
Now he has eight catches for 91 yards. Henry has never had more than 19 catches in a season, and his best year with 209 yards receiving in 2019 included a screen that he took 75 yards for a touchdown.
Another former Alabama running back could make his pro debut against Henry. Washington rookie Brian Robinson Jr. may play six weeks to the day since he was shot twice in the right leg during an attempted robbery.
Robinson said of his first game, "that would be great," as he tried not to think too far ahead. He expected to start for the Commanders, then instead was lying in a hospital bed on the night of Aug. 28 and faced a difficult road back to football that was shorter than many expected.
"It's been a long five weeks, but it's a lot of work," Robinson said. "I can say I did everything I needed to do over that time period."
FAST START, SLOW FINISH
The Titans are just the second team since 2000 to score on the first possession of each of their first four games and the first since the 2011 Patriots. The challenge comes after halftime, where the Titans have been outscored 64-7.
They haven't scored a point since a touchdown late in the third quarter of the season-opening loss to the Giants, a stretch that has reached seven straight quarters after halftime.
"We're a fast-starting team," receiver Robert Woods said. "It's more so just keeping that tempo up throughout the whole game. And I would say just finishing, finishing in the end zone when we get down there and get down there a lot more."
Washington is expected to start a fifth different combination of offensive linemen in as many games. With plenty of concerns about protecting Wentz and getting the running game going, the lack of continuity up front has not helped.
"A lot of these guys haven't been working together (and they) are not used to each other," coach Ron Rivera said. "There's a lot of little nuances that get developed over time. This group as a whole hasn't had a lot of time together."
AP Pro Football Writer Teresa M. Walker in Nashville, Tennessee, contributed to this report.
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Updated October 6, 2022