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Front Page - Friday, December 4, 2020

Vrabel goes to whip for stretch run

Titans running back Derrick Henry ran for 178 yards and three touchdowns against the Colts last week, his seventh 100-plus yard game this season. He has 1,257 total yards in 12 games. - Photo by AJ Mast | AP

Two weeks ago, a day or so after the Tennessee Titans had lost for the third time in four games, they watched film.

Nothing unusual about that. Football players and coaches are constantly watching film to evaluate opponents and themselves.

But this film was different. This film was not of football, though it certainly had a bearing on the message that Coach Mike Vrabel wanted to send to his team.

This film was of a horse race. Vrabel showed the race to his players and told them to watch what happened.

About halfway through the race, there are a few horses in the front, a bunch in the middle of the pack and a couple lagging behind.

The Titans, Vrabel pointed out, were among those teams in that middle pack – one of six AFC teams with a 6-3 record at the time.

As the film unfolded toward the stretch run, the order of the horses began to change. Some that had been front faded down the stretch, while a horse or two that had been in the group began to emerge and made a charge toward finishing in the money.

That was Vrabel’s analogy on how important it was for the Titans to separate themselves from the pack and be like the fast-finishing horses in the race on the film.

Two weeks later, having just pulled off back-to-back road wins at Baltimore and Indianapolis, the Titans have charged to the front of the pack in the AFC South and need only to finish the job over the final five weeks of the season to host a playoff game for the first time in a dozen years.

“At 6-3, I don’t think we were down and out, but at the same time, we had to play better, if we want to separate from the pack,’’ safety Kenny Vaccaro says of the transformation of the team over the past couple of weeks. “If we want to separate ourselves and be a contending team, we couldn’t play like we played.”

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill adds the Titans kept battling through the rough stretch where they lost three of four and are now seeing some payoff.

“Obviously, that was a tough stretch there for us, but we just kept grinding away, kept trying to get better each and every practice, each and every day,’’ he points out. “We take advantage of the day and the opportunities that present themselves within every day of practice. Just keep building on every day and then obviously, we want to go out and play well on Sundays.

“So, we want to keep improving as the season gets into the last stretch here, keep improving each and every week, and, obviously, be playing at our best when we head into December.

“So, that’s our mindset – go out and attack every week and find a way to come home with a win.”

Mission accomplished in Sunday’s 45-26 win at Indianapolis, which has the Titans now 8-3 and currently holding the No. 3 seed in the AFC playoff race.

Going forward, the Titans play host to the Cleveland Browns, also 8-3 and looking to reach the postseason.

“These are obviously two great wins, but we’ve got to keep it going,” Vaccaro says.

After Cleveland, the Titans have road dates against division rivals Jacksonville (Dec. 13) and Houston (Jan. 3), as well as a home game against Detroit (Dec. 20) and a Sunday, Dec. 27, night game at Lambeau Field against Green Bay.

Receiver A.J. Brown says that while the recent wins are great, the Titans must work to gain further separation from that pack.

It’s not as much about what has taken place the past two weeks, he says, but what the Titans must try to do each game down the stretch.

“It definitely says a lot; but that’s not what we’re trying to do,” Brown says. “We’ve still got a long road ahead. We’re trying to be 1-0 every week.”