NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Titans have strung together six straight winning seasons, three consecutive playoff berths and back-to-back AFC South titles capped by earning the AFC’s No. 1 seed.
Only Kansas City has a longer consecutive winning streak at nine seasons.
Unlike the Chiefs, the Titans have nothing to show but three straight postseason losses, and there’s only way to try to fix that.
“Keep winning,” Titans general manager Jon Robinson said. “Keep winning and try to punch a ticket into the tournament and see where we go.”
The Titans became the first NFL team to take advantage of the expanded 17-game season and post eight wins against teams with winning records last season. Robinson and Mike Vrabel, the AP NFL Coach of the Year, both earned contract extensions for the franchise’s best record (12-5) and highest seeding at No. 1 overall since 2008.
That all came despite using an NFL-record 91 different players — the most ever in a non-strike season. The 26 Titans placed on injured reserve included two-time NFL rushing leader Derrick Henry, who was on his way to a third straight rushing title when he broke his right foot.
Then the Titans lost on their own field for a second straight postseason, this time 19-16 to eventual AFC champion Cincinnati.
“If you don’t play well in this league, you’re going to lose,” Vrabel said. “And if you play good, you have a chance to win. Those guys, we all know that. So we’ve moved on just like everybody else has.”
Henry was leading the NFL in rushing again when he broke a bone in his right foot on Oct. 31 in an overtime win at Indianapolis. He still finished ninth in the league with 937 yards rushing and in the top 10 with 10 rushing touchdowns. He had surgery on the foot and played in the divisional loss, then spent the offseason working out like usual.
The Titans drafted Hassan Haskins out of Michigan and brought back Dontrell Hilliard for depth. Henry, 28, insists he’s healthy and ready for whatever is asked of him: “Nothing is going to change in how we want to play and our style of football.”
Ryan Tannehill’s favorite target A.J. Brown is gone, with the receiver traded to Philadelphia during the first round of the April draft. The Titans used the 18th pick overall acquired in the deal on All-Southeastern Conference wide receiver Treylon Burks. They also traded for veteran receiver Robert Woods and signed a former two-time Pro Bowl tight end in Austin Hooper.
Tennessee drafted tight end Chig Okonkwo and traded up for Liberty’s Malik Willis in the third round, the highest drafted quarterback for the franchise since Marcus Mariota at No. 2 overall in 2015. Having Henry back could help the most, but Tannehill has to be better after being intercepted more times (14) last season than his previous two years combined (13).
Tannehill was the second-most sacked quarterback in 2021, and now his offensive line will feature two new starters.
Aaron Brewer, an undrafted lineman out of Texas State, seems set at left guard, replacing salary cap casualty Rodger Saffold. The issue is right tackle. Rookie Nicholas Petit-Frere, a third-round pick out of Ohio State, may beat out Dillon Radunz for the job despite Radunz being a second-round pick in 2021 out of North Dakota State.
Back are center Ben Jones, left tackle Taylor Lewan, who is his healthiest since tearing his right ACL in October 2020, and right guard Nate Davis, who is in the fourth year of his rookie deal.
Tennessee was the only NFL team to have three players with at least eight sacks last season, and all three are back. One of them, linebacker Harold Landry, got a big contract after a career-high 12 sacks. Plus linebacker Bud Dupree, the Titans’ big free agent signing for 2021, says he played one game where he felt like himself after recovering from a torn ACL.
That game? The playoff loss when Tennessee tied an NFL record with nine sacks, a good sign for a defense that tied for ninth in the regular season with 43 sacks.
The Titans also return 10 of 11 starters from that playoff loss, with cornerback Caleb Farley, the 22nd pick overall in 2021, fighting rookie Roger McCreary for the starting job opposite Kristian Fulton. The secondary is anchored by two-time All-Pro safety Kevin Byard.
The Titans open the season on Sept. 11 by hosting the New York Giants, then will play only two more home games through early November. They play five of their first eight on the road including a prime-time game at Buffalo in Week 2. They go to Green Bay on Nov. 17 for the first of two Thursday night games, with the second on Dec. 29 hosting Dallas.
Tennessee also plays the AFC West this season, visiting Kansas City on Nov. 6 among four prime-time games, and the Chargers on Dec. 19. If the Titans survive the road-heavy start, they will play five of their final eight at home, including three in December.
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl and and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL