Titans look to extend home surge against flattened Bengals
The low point came two years ago, when the Tennessee Titans were mired in another abysmal season.
Instead of big crowds, they’d have more than 10,000 empty seats in their home stadium.
Win by win, they’re refilling the place.
The Titans (5-3) have become contenders again, tied with Jacksonville atop the AFC South. They’re also regaining their popularity by giving the home fans something to cheer.
Tennessee has won seven of its past eight home games — tied with the Eagles for best such stretch in the NFL — and is back to seeing near-capacity crowds.
There’s some momentum building in the Music City, and the Titans need to make quick work of the struggling Cincinnati Bengals (3-5) to keep to going.
“We’re trying to get our fans back,” coach Mike Mularkey said. “We’ve been trying to do that for a while now. I think it’s been loud, and it’s definitely louder and louder each game that we’re playing. It’s been fun to have them back. That’s been a big emphasis these home games.”
The Titans pulled off a 23-20 home win over Baltimore last Sunday that represented a big step in several ways. Marcus Mariota threw a pair of touchdown passes, including an 11-yarder to Eric Decker with less than 4 minutes to go. Their 5-3 mark is their best at the midpoint of a season since 2010, when they also were 5-3.
A win on Sunday would give them their first four-game winning streak since 2009. The one asterisk: None of the four teams has a winning record. They’ve beaten the Colts (3-6), the Browns (0-8) and the Ravens (4-5).
“Doesn’t matter to us,” Mariota said. “We’ve just got to focus on the next one and make sure we’re ready to go and try to continue to pile these wins together.”
The Bengals are down and pretty much out of it, coming off one of the worst offensive performances in franchise history. They generated only 29 yards rushing, eight first downs and 148 total yards during a 23-7 loss to the Jaguars. In the second half, they had only seven plays that gained yards. Cincinnati’s offense ranks last in the league in yards gained.
The Bengals started 3-5 in 2012 and got a wild card berth by going 7-1 in the second half. So far, this team has shown nothing to suggest it’s capable of the same.
“We can’t afford any more losses at this point of the season,” running back Jeremy Hill said. “It’s here, it’s now.”
Some things to watch on Sunday:
WATCH OUT FOR BYARD: Titans safety Kevin Byard already has a piece of NFL history with five interceptions in his past two games, the fifth player to do that since the league merger in 1970. No other player in Houston Oilers-Tennessee Titans history has picked off five passes in two games. Six is the most interceptions in a three-game span since the merger. The second-year pro leads the NFL with six interceptions overall.
CLOSE ONES: The Titans have back-to-back three-point wins — 12-9 in overtime at Cleveland, 23-20 over the Ravens. They’re 6-0 since the start of last season in games decided by three points or fewer. The Bengals have been blown out in their past two losses, with their offense doing next-to-nothing in the second half. The Titans would appreciate a game with less drama at the end.
“Yeah, it would be nice to do that,” Mariota said.
CINCY’S IMPLOSION: Even-tempered receiver A.J. Green was ejected late in the first half at Jacksonville for a scuffle with cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who also was kicked out of the game. Neither was suspended, so Green will be back against the Titans. The question is whether the Bengals can move past their latest display of frustration in a season that’s fast slipping away.
RUNNING IN PLACE: The Bengals’ running game hasn’t done anything all season despite the addition of rookie Joe Mixon. He carried 13 times for 31 yards at Jacksonville. He’s their leading rusher with 284 yards and an average of only 2.9 yards per carry. Giovani Bernard has a total of 103 yards. Hill has a sprained ankle that sidelined him for the Jacksonville game.
O-LINE WOES: Right tackle Jake Fisher went on an injury list this week and is done for the season. The Bengals brought back lineman Eric Winston. The line is the main problem with the offense, unable to open holes for running backs or protect Andy Dalton, who has been sacked 24 times.
“I don’t have a magic potion to give them that all of a sudden it’s going to turn it into something,” Winston said.
AP Pro Football Writer Teresa Walker in Nashville, Tennessee, contributed to this report.