Quarterback Marcus Mariota misfired on one pass in his last outing, and the Tennessee Titans still lost by 17 points.
That setback leaves no margin for error the rest of the season for the Titans, who look to begin a late-season dash when they host the New York Jets on Sunday.
Tennessee (5-6) has dropped five of its last seven games as it entertains a New York squad that has lost five straight contests.
The Titans are one game behind the Baltimore Ravens and Indianapolis Colts, who currently are the leaders to claim the final AFC wild-card spot. But Tennessee’s 3-6 conference mark leaves it as the lowest contender when it comes to the AFC’s four five-win teams.
And safety Kevin Byard doesn’t even want to hear the word “playoffs.”
“We are playing terrible right now,” Byard told reporters. “We aren’t playing good football and have to play better in all phases of the game. We aren’t thinking about the wild card right now. We can’t think about the playoffs or anything else.
“The only thing that we can think about is what’s right in front of us, and that’s the New York Jets.”
The struggling Jets (3-8) have lost by 14 or more points on four occasions during their slide.
New York is eager to get rookie quarterback Sam Darnold back on the field. Darnold injured his right foot in Week 9 and has missed the Jets’ last two games but he returned to practice on Wednesday.
“I’m hopeful,” Darnold told reporters in terms of being able to face the Titans on Sunday. “But at the same time, just seeing how I feel every single day, assess it after every practice and go from there.”
It has been a spotty season for Darnold, the No. 3 overall pick from Southern California. He has completed just 55 percent of his passes and leads the league with 14 interceptions. He has thrown for 1,934 yards and 11 touchdowns.
The Titans allowed a staggering 281 rushing yards in Monday night’s 34-17 loss to the Texans, and that could prompt New York to turn Isaiah Crowell loose.
But the 25-year-old running back hasn’t even gained 50 yards in any of the past six games after posting a franchise-record 219 rushing yards against Denver on Oct. 7. Overall, he has 582 yards and six touchdowns.
The Jets aren’t part of the playoff race and will miss the postseason for the eighth straight season. Fourth-year coach Todd Bowles is on the proverbial hot seat and the fan base has been boisterous in expressing disapproval.
Second-year safety Jamal Adams hears the chatter and can identify with the sentiments.
“We get a lot of negative comments and we understand it,” Adams told reporters of the fans. “I get it. I get the frustration, but at the end of the day, we are hurting twice as much as you. So, just stick in there with us and we are going to figure it out.”
Mariota is hoping to figure out what it takes to get a victory after his .957 completion percentage (22 of 23) against Houston was the second best in NFL history. The only better completion rate (.966) came one day earlier by Philip Rivers (28 of 29) of the Los Angeles Chargers.
Mariota passed for 303 yards and two touchdowns against Houston but an early 10-0 lead evaporated into a disappointing loss that leaves the Titans in must-win mode.
The bright spot is that Tennessee plays four of its last five games at home, beginning with the Jets and a Dec. 6 contest against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“We’ve got two games in less than a week,” Mariota told reporters. “It’s all about us taking care of our business and focusing on what we can control. We haven’t played complementary football. We haven’t done a good enough job across the board.
“At the same time, there’s no loss of confidence. We just got to go out there, find where we can all improve and bounce back.”
—Field Level Media