Winning in the NFL is not easy.
That’s especially the case when playing on the road. However, sometimes there are road games on the schedule that feel a bit easier than others.
The Tennessee Titans had one of those games on Sunday, with the opponent being the winless Cleveland Browns.
The overall result wound up being what many people expected – the Titans won the game to move to 4-3 while the Browns fell to 0-7.
But in looking beyond the final score, there were more questions than answers for the AFC South leaders.
Mike Mularkey’s team didn’t look like a division-leading team at all. It took deep into overtime to get to Ryan Succop’s game-winning field goal with 1:55 left, which is something that shouldn’t happen when one team is winning a division and other other team isn’t winning anything.
The Titans looked like a team with little to play for, and one that may not be playing for anything when playoff time rolls around in January.
Maybe it was the short week following the franchise snapping its 11-game losing streak to the Indianapolis Colts. Maybe it was simply playing down to the level of the competition.
The latter is what should concern Titans’ fans going forward – as well as tight end Delanie Walker walking on crutches after spraining his ankle in the game.
Playing down to the competition is not what playoff teams do. Going into the season, the goal for this team was clear: win the AFC South. And nearly halfway through the season, that goal is within reach.
But to keep it within reach, the Titans have to find consistency across the board.
Remember that team that beat Jacksonville and Seattle earlier in the season? It’s the same team that lost 57-14 in Houston and needed nearly five quarters to beat the hapless Browns.
Those up and down results aren’t what helps a team go from pretender to contender.
The offensive play-calling still has to be better. Marcus Mariota still has to be better. The overall defense still has to be better, even if it was second-year safety Kevin Byard that saved the day with three interceptions.
The next three games for Tennessee will come against typically gritty – and also inconsistent – AFC North teams in Baltimore, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh.
For the Titans to stay on track and be at the top of the division when the rematch with the Colts rolls around on November 26, it’ll take a more consistent effort than what we saw in Cleveland.
If this team puts it all together, it could very well find itself in the playoffs two years removed from a 3-13 season.
For that to happen, the Titans will have to show a lot more than they did against the Browns.