NFL Preview - San Diego (1-1) at Tennessee (1-1)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The Tennessee Titans will play the first of three consecutive games in Nashville on Sunday when they try to halt an ugly nine- game losing streak against the San Diego Chargers in their 2013 home opener.
In fact "the Titans" have never beaten the Chargers with the franchise's last win in the series coming nearly 21 years ago on Sept. 27, 1992 when it was known as the Houston Oilers.
"To be able to come home to familiar territory where we don't have to travel the day before the game (is big)," Tennessee safety George Wilson said. "We can be in a routine for these next three weeks without having to travel or go anywhere. I think that'll give us a lot more confidence."
Following a Week 1 win at Pittsburgh, the Titans were on the road last week for the second straight game, falling to the Houston Texans, 30-24, in a dramatic, back-and-forth overtime affair.
The Texans knotted the score late in the fourth quarter on a one-yard rushing touchdown and subsequent two-point conversion by Arian Foster. Then, on the first possession of overtime, Matt Schaub completed a 3-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to seal the Titans' fate.
Tennessee quarterback Jake Locker piloted two long scoring drives in the game and capped each of them with a touchdown pass. His 6-yard connection with Kendall Wright in the first quarter completed an 80-yard drive, and in the fourth quarter, he directed a 99-yard march that ended with a 10-yard touchdown pass to tight end Delanie Walker.
Cornerback Alterraun Verner scored Tennessee's other TD on a 23-yard interception return. The play highlighted a two-sack, two-takeaway performance by a defense that also limited the Texans to a 35 percent conversion rate on third down.
Running back Chris Johnson also became just the third player in franchise history to reach 7,000 career rushing yards, joining Eddie George (10,009) and Hall of Famer Earl Campbell (8,574) as the only Titans/Oilers to do so.
Johnson finished the game at Houston with 96 yards on 25 carries, marking his second consecutive week with 25 rushing attempts.
"It's tough. It's really difficult," Locker said of the loss. "This is what's tough about this sport. It doesn't all go the way you'd like it in hard fought games like this. That's why you love it so much that's why it's so tough at times."
The sport wasn't as tough for San Diego last week as the elder statesman of the Chargers lifted the club over Chip Kelly's Philadelphia Eagles, 33-30, in a shootout.
Chip's crew exploded for 511 yards of total offense but San Diego trumped that with 539 yards and getting the ball last, winning the game on Nick Novak's 46- yard field goal with seven seconds remaining.
The Eagles offense remained dynamic but left a number of plays on the field while the defense -- especially the pass defense -- struggled mightily against Philip Rivers and his favorite target, Antonio Gates. Meanwhile, it was Dwight Freeney who set the tone for the San Diego defenders, who did just enough to keep Michel Vick uncomfortable in some key situations.
Rivers, who threw for 419 yards overall on 36-of-47 passing, got the ball back after Birds kicker Alex Henery booted a game-tying field goal. He hit Gates for gains of 15 and 21 yards on the first two plays of the march before Danny Woodhead hauled in a critical six-yard reception to move the sticks on a 3rd- and-4 at the Philadelphia 37-yard line.
Novak split the uprights four plays later.
"You have to have the right mindset in game, you've got to believe and you've got to finish," McCoy said, alluding to his team's collapse against Houston on Kickoff Weekend. "Today we finished and that's why you win football games in this league."
Wide receiver Malcom Floyd tallied 102 yards receiving on five receptions in the first half before being taken off the field on a stretcher after a nasty DeMeco Ryans hit early in the third.
Rivers adjusted, however, and went to more underneath stuff to both Gates as well as Woodhead. Gates finished with eight receptions on 10 targets for 124 yards while Woodhead has eight catches in nine targets for 37 yards and dropped the lone blemish on his daily record.
Meanwhile, when Rivers did look downfield Eddie Royal was usually there, snaring seven balls in eight targets for 90 yards and three TDs.
"We have been telling you since the day we got here that (Rivers) was going to have a great year," McCoy said. "These are the types of games you expect great players to have. It's not a shock to our system at all what he did out there."
The Chargers lead their all-time series against the Tennessee franchise, which includes four postseason meetings, by a 26-16-1 mark.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The San Diego offense has been pretty explosive thus far. Royal has opened the season on a tear, catching an NFL-leading five touchdown passes in the team's first two games, the most touchdown catches by a Chargers' player in a two- game stretch since Gates had five in Games 8-9 of the 2004 season against Oakland and New Orleans.
"He's definitely a shifty guy, a smaller shifty guy who can make some plays, make guys miss." Ryans said when discussing Royal.
Rivers, meanwhile, has opened the season with seven touchdown passes, the most by a Chargers quarterback in the first two games since Dan Fouts threw seven in Weeks 1-2 of the 1980 season.
Rivers has also spearheaded San Diego's success against the Titans over the years, connecting on 68.5 percent on his passes with 11 touchdowns and five interceptions while winning all six games he has played against them.
One concern is that Floyd isn't expected to be play after suffering a neck injury on the big hit last week.
"They are continuing to do some tests on him throughout the week just to make sure we are doing things the right way," said McCoy.
For Tennessee Locker continues to feel his way at the QB position, making the running game a virtual must for Mike Munchak. When Johnson has it going, it opens up play-action for Locker, making the reads far easier for the third- year QB.
Johnson, however, was held to 17 yards on eight carries the last time he played the Chargers and his caddy, Shonn Greene, is now sidelined after undergoing knee surgery earlier this week.
"It's not going to be something that's long term and the good thing is we got it behind us so we should have him refreshed and strong for the rest of the year," Munchak said when discussing Greene.
Either way Locker should have some opportunities down the field against San Diego, which has allowed an NFL-worst 375.5 passing yards per game.
The Chargers defense could get a lift from the possible return of rookie linebacker Manti Te'o, who has been sidelined since Week 1 of the preseason with a sprained right foot.
San Diego is averaging 37.7 points per game in its last three games against the Titans and QB Rivers is 5-0 as a starter against Tennessee in the regular season with 10 TDs and a passer rating of over 100.
The added juice of this being the home opener for the Titans, however, could finally get them over the top.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Titans 23, Chargers 20
09/20 12:14:21 ET