ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --** The opportunities have been there.
All too often this season, however, the Titans have found themselves on the wrong end of a slim margin with the final scoreboard reading 0:00 – something that Titans Head Coach Mike Munchak circled during a conference call with the Denver media on Wednesday as "probably most disappointing" about Tennessee's 5-7 record this season.
"We've been in every game - we're right there," Munchak said. "We've had a lot of opportunities in the fourth quarter to win rather than lose. That's what's probably most disappointing that with our record. We feel like we're a much better team than our record shows, but we are what your record is and that's where we are right now."
The Titans fell 22-14 at Indianapolis last weekend after a potential game-tying drive into Colts territory ended when quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was intercepted with 24 seconds left. It was the fifth time this season that the Titans have lost by eight or fewer points.
Despite their record, however, the Titans still find themselves in the thick of the AFC Playoff hunt. Munchak noted, however, that continuing to contend will require closing out the games that have slipped through Tennessee's fingers for much of the season. "We have to find a way in the fourth quarter to finish things out," he said. "We're right there and we feel we have a very good football team we just have to finish with wins."
And according to running back Chris Johnson, with only four games remaining in the regular season, they'll need to start putting those wins together immediately in order to have a chance at a playoff run.
"I feel like we have been given a lot of chances," Johnson said. "I feel like we're working hard right now as a team and just trying to stick together and just trying to squeeze in. We've got four games left, so we know in order for us to have a chance at the playoffs, we're probably nine times out of ten going to have to win all four. It's just a situation of trying to treat these games like a playoff game."
The forecast for Sunday's kickoff at Sports Authority Field at Mile High calls for below-freezing temperatures. And while Munchak pointed out that he believes the weather could play a role in slowing down a Denver offense averaging an NFL-best 38.7 points per game, he said the conditions won't have an impact unless the Titans defense holds up its end.
"A team that scores as many points as they do, you would think that may have an effect and slow them down a tad," Munchak said. "But I don't know - that's more about wind and things like that I would think. I don't know necessarily if that will matter a whole lot unless we use it to our advantage."
What Munchak hopes will slow down the Broncos offense, however, is a Titans defense that ranks in the top-half of the NFL in total defense and that has allowed opponents to convert on just 32.9 percent of all third downs.
He also noted that the experience that Defensive Coordinator Jerry Gray and Senior Assistant/Defense Gregg Williams have with game-planning against Denver quarterback Peyton Manning has been helpful in preparing to face the Broncos.
"We've worked on this before, which is a plus because Jerry Gray and Gregg Williams have gone against Peyton quite a bit – and his style of offense that we have to prepare for," he said. "So at least we understand a lot of the nuances of that, of just how you get the players ready and about substitutions. A lot of things that go into the reps and how you handle that."
Another factor in defending the Broncos will be the play of the Titans secondary and cornerback Alterraun Verner – whose five interceptions lead the AFC, in addition to two fumble recoveries. And Munchak noted that his secondary, allowing just 212.6 passing yards per game, is excited about the challenge of facing Denver's top-ranked passing offense.
"I think he's a guy that studies tape like a lot of great corners do - him and (CB Jason) McCourty both," Munchak said. "Both of our corners are playing really well and this is going to be an unbelievable challenge for them. I think the thing is they're excited about that. Our defense is playing a lot better than they did a year ago. The first half of the season (Verner) was able to make a lot of interceptions for us which helped us start out 3-1. We need that this week."
Meanwhile, on the offensive side of the ball, Johnson – who has rushed for 774 yards and four touchdowns this season – noted that he's used to being a "marked man" since his 2009 campaign, when he rushed for 2,000 yards and set an NFL-record with 2,509 total yards from scrimmage. On Sunday, he'll face a Broncos defense that ranks seventh against the run – and a defense that Johnson said brings plenty of athleticism to the table.
"I know they've got a lot of speed on their defense and they're athletic over there," Johnson said. "It's just a situation where we're going to have to match their intensity."
Ultimately, Munchak noted that his own offense's ability to keep the Broncos offense off the field – limiting Denver's opportunities to score points – will be key to the Titans hopes for victory.
"We know that on offense, the best way to help our defense is for our offense to stay on the field, make plays and take it down the field and score points," Munchak said. "Give them fewer opportunities so we can keep this game within reach. I think that is kind of the goal – to keep the game within reach, on their turf, playing there – and then having a chance in the second half to see if we can make the plays to win a football game."