After 0-2 start, players-only meeting helps Titans get back to top of AFC South

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Things were looking bleak for the Tennessee Titans after getting embarrassed on the road in a 41-7 loss to the Buffalo Bills in Week 2.

As many of the shell-shocked players showered and got ready to board the team bus, Titans captains Kevin Byard and Derrick Henry were huddled up at one of the lockers in deep conversation. That talk grew into a players-only meeting a few days later reminding everyone of the bounce-back culture the organization had built.

Falling to 0-2 could have sent the Titans' season spiraling. But that would go against the "street rat" mindset coach Mike Vrabel wants his team to exhibit by finding a way to get the job done, especially when things get tough.

"The message is sent from Coach Vrabel," quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. "Guys in the locker room believe in each other and don't lose faith. Keep to the process of trying to get better each week. We have a long season in front of us. Still have to keep improving because we're just scratching the surface."

The Titans (3-2) promptly went on a three-game winning streak that has them sitting atop the AFC South division entering a much-needed bye week.

Each of the Titans' wins were by seven points or fewer and came down to the defense making a play in the end to preserve the win. Reserve linebacker Dylan Cole jump-started things in a 24-22 win over the Las Vegas Raiders to start the three-game winning streak. Cole tipped a pass by quarterback Derek Carr that was intended for tight end Darren Waller to prevent a game-tying 2-point conversion.

Defensive lineman Denico Autry came through the following week when his sack knocked the Indianapolis Colts backward and forced a 51-yard field goal attempt with 2:04 left that missed the mark. The Titans won 24-17.

Last week's 21-17 win over the Washington Commanders presented the most drama. The Commanders got to Tennessee's 2-yard line with 16 seconds left after a controversial pass interference call on Kristian Fulton.

Linebacker David Long Jr. saved the day though when he intercepted quarterback Carson Wentz.


"It starts from the top. ... What [Vrabel] believes in with this culture," Byard said. "Then the leaders and everybody else. The experience of understanding that we've been in these games many times, they may make plays earlier in the game. So what? We are going to keep fighting."

Byard is right.

The Titans have been in a lot of close games under Vrabel and are 23-11 since he took over in 2018. Tennessee's .676 winning percentage in such games is third-best in the league, tied with the Kansas City Chiefs.

"They fight and they compete," Vrabel said. "I love that about them. They are not afraid to play in a close game if it gets to that. They understand what the situation is, what it requires, whether that is offensively in a four-minute drill or defensively to be able to execute in the end of the game."

Vrabel's Titans found a way to win last season despite an unprecedented obstacle. Tennessee set a league record for most players utilized in games at 91.

Henry was on pace for his third consecutive rushing title before suffering a Jones fracture to his right foot last Halloween, causing him to miss the final eight games of the regular season. Despite that, the Titans still found a way to the top seed in the AFC.

The injuries are mounting up once again, though. Through five weeks, the Titans have already placed 12 players on injured reserve, including Pro Bowl outside linebacker Harold Landry III.

The bye week will give the Titans a chance to lick their wounds and get ready for a tough 12-game stretch that includes clashes with the Chiefs, Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers, as well as five division games. The time off will give players such as right guard Nate Davis (knee), safety Amani Hooker (concussion), and linebacker Bud Dupree (hip) time to recover and return to the lineup.

Getting healthy could be vital as they return to action in Week 7 for another matchup with the Colts -- who currently sit second in the AFC South standings. Knowing what's ahead, Vrabel has no intent to let his foot off the gas after the bye.

"We always try to be conscious of what we are doing well and how we can continue to do it well," Vrabel said. "Everything that we can potentially work on, we will try to focus on and see if we can get it done. You don't have a whole lot of time."