NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — NFL players know better than anyone this game really is a business with how new faces rotate in and out of locker rooms day to day and week to week throughout the season.
Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill says it definitely adds another layer to a week when they're busy preparing to host AFC South division rival Jacksonville on Sunday while trying to snap a two-game skid. It's just another type of adversity.
“This week it is just a different person than we were expecting,” Tannehill said of Titans controlling owner Amy Adams Strunk's surprise firing of GM Jon Robinson on Tuesday.
Making the firing so stunning is that the Titans (7-5) are nearing a third straight division title even after a 35-10 loss at Philadelphia last week. They're home for three of their final five games, and three of those remaining games are inside the division Tennessee has dominated better than any other NFL team since 2020.
This will be their first game against Jacksonville (4-8) and new coach Doug Pederson. The Jaguars have lost two of their last three, including a 40-14 rout last week in Detroit. This is Pederson's first chance in a rivalry that Tennessee has won nine of the last 10.
At least Pederson should have second-year quarterback Trevor Lawrence who plans to play despite a sprained left big toe after one of the scariest injuries he's faced. He has never played an NFL game without practicing all week.
“It’s kind of uncharted territory for me, but I think as long as I feel good enough to go out there and run and cut and do what I need to do to play and put us in a good situation, I would feel comfortable being out there,” Lawrence said.
Nobody in the NFL has been better inside the division than Tennessee since the start of the 2020 season with a record of 13-2 and an .867 winning percentage. Buffalo and Kansas City, both 12-3, are tied for the second-best divisional winning percentage in that span.
The Titans already are 3-0 this season, having swept the Colts. A win Sunday would eliminate the Jaguars from AFC South contention and move Tennessee closer to a third straight division title.
HOUSE OF HORRORS
Jacksonville has lost eight in a row in Nashville, a skid that spans three Jaguars head coaches: Gus Bradley, Doug Marrone and Urban Meyer.
Bradley was the last coach to lead Jacksonville to a win in Tennessee, a 29-27 victory in 2013 that Titans tight end Delanie Walker called “disgusting.” Marrone went 0-4 in his wife’s home state. Meyer’s lone game at Nissan Stadium was his last in the NFL, a 20-0 drubbing last December that prompted owner Shad Khan to fire him days later.
“Obviously, it’s big because in order to get where we want to go we’ve got to win football games, especially in the division,” said left guard Tyler Shatley, the only player remaining on Jacksonville’s roster from that 2013 game. “That’s just where we’ve got to start – winning football games in the division. We’re playing these guys twice a year; at least get one.”
Tannehill went through a rough season last year with the most interceptions he'd had since his second year in the league. The Titans quarterback is back to being the player he has been much of his time with the Titans with only four interceptions, going seven games without being picked off.
He hasn't been intercepted since Nov. 17 in a win at Green Bay, which snapped a four-game streak without a pick. Over the past 10 weeks, Tannehill is the NFL's only quarterback with at least three starts and only one interception.
Jacksonville is coming off one of its worst defensive performances of the season, giving up 437 yards and 40 points at Detroit, and Pederson believes it could be a motivating factor against the Titans.
“I think disappointment, I think the embarrassment,” Pederson said. “That’s what you put on film? That’s for everyone, players, coaches, that’s everybody. That’s the sense that I felt Monday. Once you get through it and you focus on the next week’s opponent, you put it behind you, you learn from it, get ready for another opportunity.”
The Titans couldn't agree more. They had gone eight straight games holding opponents to 20 points or less until being routed in Philadelphia.
“We can’t afford to drop any more games like that,” Titans two-time All-Pro safety Kevin Byard said.
AP Pro Football Writer Mark Long contributed to this report.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL