NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Now that the Tennessee Titans finally have the win they so desperately needed they get a couple of days to rest before trying to prove they've turned this season around.
Coach Mike Munchak gave his Titans (2-4) the weekend off after Thursday night's 26-23 win over Pittsburgh, and they don't play again until visiting Buffalo on Oct. 21.
"Obviously, winning is huge for us because we needed it so badly and it's something we can build off of," Munchak said Friday. "Now we have these four games coming up, and we have another break. Let's see if we can suck it up and put a winning streak together."
The Titans showed some glimpses of the team that went 9-7 last season beating the Steelers. They blocked a punt to set up their first rushing touchdown this season, and the defense that had given up an NFL-worst 181 points through five games allowed a season-low points in forcing Pittsburgh to settle for four field goal attempts with the last one short in the final minute.
It would be easy for the Titans to think of what might have been if not for their struggles the first five weeks.
"We've already given away four games," cornerback Jason McCourty said after the game. "At this point, it's a matter of trying to win out now."
The schedule certainly eases up for Tennessee.
The weekend off provides a mini-break before visiting Buffalo (2-3), hosting Indianapolis (2-2) and Chicago (4-1) and going to Miami (2-3) before the Titans' bye week. Munchak said they then will have a six-game run to the finish, and Houston is the only team currently with a winning record in that stretch.
The Titans return to work Monday still needing to gear up the offensive and deal with tackling issues on defense. Doctors will check Jake Locker's left, non-throwing shoulder Monday to see if he can return to practice. If Locker isn't ready, then Matt Hasselbeck would start his third straight game.
"If Jake's healthy and we feel he's ready to play, he'll play," Munchak said.
If Locker isn't ready, Munchak said they are lucky to have Hasselbeck. The 14-year veteran was intercepted once and got lucky at least twice against Pittsburgh, including once on the tying touchdown drive. But Hasselbeck also had his best game ever against the Steelers throwing for 290 yards and the 5-yard TD to Kenny Britt.
Tennessee held the ball for 30 minutes, 3 seconds — the longest time of possession by the Titans since a win over Jacksonville on Dec. 24 last season. The Titans' improved offense might have been helped by offensive coordinator Chris Palmer moving to the box for the first time with receivers coach Dave Ragone on the field.
Palmer had worked from the sideline since joining the staff last season, intially to better coach a new offense during games. It worked well enough last season as Tennessee went 9-7 that Palmer stayed on the sideline the first five weeks this season before making the switch with Ragone.
"I'm sure we'll keep it that way," Munchak said.
The Titans also got just the second start this season for Britt, who tore his right ACL in September 2011 and has had three knee surgeries since then. His timing remains a bit off as he works himself back into shape.
Chris Johnson has been criticized heavily for his poor start this season. The Titans still can run better, but Johnson's 91 yards on 19 carries was his best game ever against the Steelers. Johnson credited the offensive line for his performance, saying they need each other to play well.
Munchak said both Johnson and the offense benefited from being having more time on the field to get into a better rhythm together. Winning the game by scoring 10 points in the final 4:19 against the NFL's fifth-best defense also gave a glimpse of what the Titans believe they have on offense.
"We have some very good talent here," Munchak said. "It's just a matter of us now week in, week out proving that."
The Titans still must fix tackling woes. Ike Redman got 10 extra yards on one catch because the Titans were too busy trying to punch the ball out rather than take him to the ground. Munchak said they must wrap up before trying to force a turnover.
"It's a work in progress," Munchak said.
And Tennessee has 10 games left to show what they can do.
Notes: DT Jurrell Casey hurt his shoulder and didn't finish the game. Munchak said the tackle should back for Buffalo. Defensive back Tommie Campbell, who hurt his left ankle covering a punt, will be checked and could miss some time.
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