NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Having a .500 record midway through the season might not seem like a big deal to most teams, but it’s a major step forward for the Tennessee Titans.
The Titans (4-4) already have exceeded their win total from each of the last two seasons after rolling to a 36-22 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday night. The Titans finished 3-13 last year and 2-14 in 2014.
“I think it shows that this team’s going in the right direction,” Titan coach Mike Mularkey said Friday. “We’re doing some good things. Last night’s probably the first time I can honestly say we had all three phases play well, well enough to win. The results showed it.”
Mularkey said running back DeMarco Murray underwent an MRI on his toe Friday but added that “I don’t think it’s too serious.” Murray appeared to hurt the toe late in the second quarter but returned in the second half and ended up with 123 yards.
Murray and quarterback Marcus Mariota led a Titans offense that scored on six straight possessions against Jacksonville. On defense, the Titans held Jacksonville in check before allowing two touchdowns in the last 3 ½ minutes after the game was decided.
“I think we’re trying to show people we’re a different team this year,” wide receiver Rishard Matthew said. “We’re definitely trying to win the division.”
First they need to play better within the division. The game Thursday is the Titans’ first AFC South victory after they already had lost at Houston and at home against Indianapolis.
But they’re only a half-game behind AFC South leader Houston (4-3). That represents major progress for a franchise that hasn’t reached the playoffs since 2008.
Tennessee’s record could be even better if it hadn’t let a couple more potential wins slip away.
The Titans blew a 10-0 halftime lead in a season-opening 25-16 home loss to Minnesota. They fell 34-26 to Indianapolis at home on Sunday by allowing a go-ahead touchdown with less than two minutes remaining.
“We’ve had chances to win all the games we’ve been in,” Mularkey said. “The losses have come down to the final minutes of the fourth quarter. We’ve had chances. It’s things we’ve done that have prevented us from getting over the hump to win those games. Yeah, our record could be better, but you could say that about a lot of teams in this league.”
Tennessee is benefiting from its offseason efforts to upgrade the rushing attack by acquiring Murray and drafting offensive tackle Jack Conklin in the first round and Heisman Trophy-winning running back Derrick Henry in the second round.
The Titans average 152.3 yards rushing per game to rank third in the NFL, behind only Dallas and Buffalo. DeMarco Murray has rushed for 756 yards — already exceeding his 215 total of 633 with Philadelphia.
Mularkey believes that ground attack can be even more productive.
“When you watch the tape, there’s a lot of yards still, to me, that we’re leaving out there,” Mularkey said.
Five of the Titans’ last eight games are on the road — starting with a Nov. 6 trip to San Diego — but that might not be such a bad thing. Tennessee is 2-1 on the road and only 2-3 at home this season.
Mularkey concedes that “we really haven’t accomplished anything” just yet with the season halfway over, but he likes his team’s approach. After losing three of their first four games, the Titans have won three of their last four.
“I’m really proud of this football team,” Mularkey said. “I really enjoy being around this team. They care about each other. I care about them. It’s important to them. They care about having each other’s backs. I think it’s really important to them, and it shows up on Sundays.”