A pair of playoff hopefuls still trying to hit their stride, while intent on solving something of dueling identity crises, will meet Sunday when the Los Angeles Chargers play host to the Tennessee Titans at Inglewood, Calif.
The Titans (7-6) arrive on the West Coast with additional baggage in the form of a three-game losing streak, although they have remained in first place in the tepid AFC South.
The Chargers (7-6) are coming off an impressive 23-17 victory over the Miami Dolphins and sit just outside of AFC wild-card eligibility. Yet, as much as the win offered a glimpse into the team’s possibilities, it was a reminder of the topsy-turvy ride this season.
What becomes clear is that the Chargers might be one of the AFC’s better teams had it not been for key injuries. Finding that potential still can happen.
Wide receivers Mike Williams (ankle) and Keenan Allen (hamstring) are back now after missing a combined 11 games between them.
Quarterback Justin Herbert targeted Allen 14 times in each of the past two games and the veteran had 12 receptions for 92 yards against the Dolphins. Williams had six catches on six targets for 116 yards and a touchdown in the pivotal win against Miami.
“He’s just getting better,” Allen said of the 24-year-old Herbert, now in his third season. “He’s just starting. He’s about to blow this league away.”
Said Williams of Herbert: “He’s a leader on this team. We just got to continue to follow him.”
More injury progress is apparently coming. Chargers star defensive end Joey Bosa (groin) has been out since Week 3, and while his absence is expected to extend through Sunday, he is due back before the regular season ends.
Among active players, only safety Derwin James Jr. (quadriceps) was listed as out of practice Wednesday. Tight end Donald Parham Jr. (hamstring) is expected to be available Sunday. Cornerback Bryce Callahan (groin) and defensive end Sebastian Joseph-Day (knee) did not play against the Dolphins but were listed as limited Wednesday.
After general manager Jon Robinson was fired last week, not much changed with the Titans on Sunday when they fell 36-22 to the Jacksonville Jaguars. While defeats could be expected against the surging Cincinnati Bengals in Week 12 and the NFL’s top team in the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 13, a two-score loss at home to the Jaguars has alarm bells ringing in Tennessee.
The Titans matched a season high with four turnovers against the Jaguars, including a pair of fumbles by Derrick Henry. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill was 25 of 38 for 254 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. On defense, Tennessee hasn’t forced a takeaway in four games and has given up 71 points combined in its last two.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve created a turnover, or hit anybody hard enough to knock the ball loose, or intercept it, or tip it up in the air and catch it,” Titans head coach Mike Vrabel said.
Yet a two-game lead in the division has spirits high.
“We’re hungry to get back on the right track,” said Tannehill, who was listed as limited in practice Wednesday with an ankle injury but is expected to play. “We’re hungry to do things the way we want to do them. We did a lot of good things (against the Jaguars) but shot ourselves in the foot too many times.”
The Titans had a number of players sidelined for Wednesday’s practice: wide receivers C.J. Board (rib), Treylon Burks (concussion) and Robert Woods (illness); cornerback Kristian Fulton (groin) and running back Dontrell Hilliard (neck). Henry was out for rest.