The Tennessee Titans will be without both their starting tight end and right tackle against the New York Giants.
They could be out longer, but for now, Sunday’s road trip to New York is the only game that matters.
The Titans are trying to climb back into an AFC wild-card berth, and coach Mike Vrabel gave no update on tight end Jonnu Smith or tackle Jack Conklin on Monday morning except to say both were getting treatment for knee injuries. Vrabel said he doesn’t see either Smith or Conklin being available against the Giants, possibly leaving the Titans with roster decisions to make for players hurt in Tennessee’s 30-9 rout of Jacksonville last Thursday.
Whether either Smith or Conklin returns this season, Vrabel gave little hint.
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“I’ll hold out hope until somebody tells me otherwise,” Vrabel said.
Losing Smith would be a big blow as the second starting tight end the Titans (7-6) have lost this season. Three-time Pro Bowl tight end Delanie Walker broke his right ankle in the season opener, and Smith has started 12 games season. Anthony Firkser, who made his NFL debut with Tennessee earlier this season, currently is second after Smith with 16 catches for 201 yards receiving and a touchdown.
The Titans do have veteran Dennis Kelly to step in for Conklin, and he has started twice this season.
What Tennessee also has is a two-game winning streak for a franchise whose best hope of earning a second straight playoff berth is winning out.
Denver’s loss to San Francisco trimmed the number of teams between the Titans and the AFC’s second wild-card berth to three with Tennessee now tied at 7-6 with Baltimore , Miami and Indianapolis. Each of those teams holds a head-to-head tiebreaker, though the Titans host the Colts on Dec. 30 in the regular season finale.
The Colts’ win over Houston also pulled the Titans within two losses of the Texans (9-4) in the AFC South with three games to play. Houston finishes the season on the road at the Jets (4-9) and Eagles (6-7) before hosting Jacksonville.
Not that Vrabel is looking at any playoff scenarios except the first and most crucial component: Tennessee winning.
“Whatever else would happen outside of that couldn’t help us if we didn’t find a way to win,” Vrabel said.
The Titans have blown chances to control their playoff destiny in years past, including 2016 when Marcus Mariota broke his right leg in a loss at Jacksonville on Christmas Eve. They led the AFC South last December only to stumble with a three-game skid. Linebacker Wesley Woodyard said the Titans will take this final stretch one game at a time starting with the Giants (5-8).
“The only way to survive is win this game here, and that’s the only game that anybody should be worried about, not any kind of scenarios or what’s going to happen, what could happen,” Woodyard said. “We need to take care of this game.”
A 2-5 record away from Nashville this season doesn’t help, but safety Kevin Byard said he believes the Titans have been doing better than at the beginning of the season.
“We’re just trying to work on being consistent right now, and I think if we’re consistent late in this year and especially down the stretch that will pretty much be the indicator if we’ve grown or not,” Byard said.
Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker