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|Go ahead and pick against the Tennessee Titans. Count them out against the New England Patriots or call them the ugliest team left in the NFL playoffs.
A franchise only two years removed from the NFL’s worst record over a two-season stretch cares only about winning.
”Our guys kind of like that role Jason Spezza Jersey ,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey said of being underdogs. ”Again, this is not a flashy team. It’s not sexy. It’s just a blue collar, come to work, see what happens when you do and see … everybody compete for 60 minutes, see what the outcome is going to come. … Don’t worry about predictors. That’s their job. We have a job to do.”
The Titans (10-7) went 5-27 between 2014 and 2015, costing Ken Whisenhunt his job after 23 games. Mularkey took over, and he’s now 21-21 after a stunning comeback for a 22-21 win at Kansas City in the wild-card round.
Now they will visit New England (13-3) on Saturday night for Tennessee’s first divisional playoff game since January 2009 and their first divisional road game since losing to the Patriots 17-14 in January 2004. They’ve already been installed as 13-point underdogs, though being at least an 8-point underdog at Kansas City and trailing 21-3 at halftime didn’t stop the Titans.
Pro Bowl defensive lineman Jurrell Casey said the Titans’ confidence never wavered as they tied for the second-largest comeback by a road team in the playoffs.
”Everybody was hungry and had the want to,” Casey said. ”When you have that, and look around the sideline and see it in their eyes, there’s no reason to panic. That’s what we’ve been doing all year long, and we’ll continue to do that.”
Actually, the Titans have been doing that for the past couple seasons under Mularkey. The Titans now are 7-1 since the start of the 2016 season in games decided by three or fewer points – best in the NFL.
Tight end Delanie Walker said they are comfortable when trailing, confident in their ability to rally.
”We fight to the end,” Walker said. ”We weren’t worried about it. We came in (at halftime) and we were like, `They haven’t done anything to stop us.’ We made some adjustments. We went back out there, moved the ball, scored some points and there you have it.”
Mularkey said being in close games is expected with how Tennessee attacks on offense with its run scheme. That’s what makes coordinator Dick LeBeau’s defense so crucial.
The Titans rallied against Kansas City with the defense holding the Chiefs to just 61 yards total offense and no points in the second half. On the other side, the offense held the ball for more than 19 minutes John Klingberg Jersey , scored on four straight possessions and Derrick Henry had 85 of his career-high 156 yards rushing in the fourth quarter.
Marcus Mariota also notched the ninth game-winning drive of his career and fifth since the start of the 2017 season in beating Kansas City.
Mularkey said the mental toughness required to pull out so many close games is critical, especially on the road.
”We did a lot of good things in that game to give us a chance to win,” Mularkey said. ”Unfortunately, we had to do it late, but we did a lot of good things as a team I think will carry over as we go forward.”
General manager Jon Robinson, who got his start in the NFL with 12 seasons in New England starting as a scout, has been busy rebuilding this roster over the past two years. Cornerback Logan Ryan, who signed as a free agent last offseason after four seasons and two Super Bowl rings with the Patriots, said the Titans feature a bunch of players with nothing to lose.
”A bunch of guys who are underrated, undervalued, who came from different places, and who were trying to do something special. We believe that,” Ryan said.
Now the longshot Titans face their biggest test yet Saturday night in New England.
”We want more,” Walker said.
The Los Angeles Angels were 4 1/2 games behind the Seattle Mariners when they opened a three-game series three weeks ago. When the Angels return to Seattle on Tuesday to begin another three-game set, they’ll be 11 games behind the Mariners for the second wild card from the American League.
The Mariners (54-31) swept the Angels the last time they were in town, and Seattle expanded that cushion by going 7-0 last week for their longest winning streak of the season.
The Angels (43-42) are 6-14 since pulling within 3 1/2 games of the Mariners on June 9. They lost to the Minnesota Twins the following day before getting swept June 11-13 in Seattle. Los Angeles has already played six games at Safeco Field this season but has yet to host the Mariners in Anaheim.
If the Angels drop the series opener, they’ll own a .500 record for the first time since the second game of the season.
The scheduled starting pitchers for Tuesday were also matched up on June 11.
Los Angeles left-hander Andrew Heaney (4-5, 3-95 ERA) gave up five runs and seven hits in three innings of the 5-3 loss.
Seattle left-hander Wade LeBlanc (3-0, 3.3 gave up two runs and four hits in five innings in his only career appearance against Seattle.
LeBlanc Mattias Janmark Jersey , who made 10 appearances for the Angels in 2014, including three starts, hasn’t experienced a defeat in 11 starts this season, and the Mariners are 8-3 in those games.
The Mariners have also found something special in closer Edwin Diaz, who became the second pitcher in major league history with at least 30 saves and 70 strikeouts before the All-Star break. The other is former Los Angeles Dodgers closer Eric Gagne.
“We’ve had a lot of valuable players on our team,” Seattle manager Scott Servais told reporters after a 1-0 win over the Kansas City Royals on Sunday. “But winning the close games, it creates the type of atmosphere that’s going on at Safeco Field right now and the city and getting our fan base psyched again.”
Heaney also struggled in his most recent outing, allowing six runs and eight hits in 3 1/3 innings of a 9-6 loss on Wednesday at the Boston Red Sox, but he did not absorb the loss.
He’s 1-2 in four career starts against the Mariners with a 4.42 ERA.
The Angels lost two more pitchers to injury on their current road trip.
Jake Jewell sustained a broken right fibula against the Red Sox on Wednesday. The rookie right-hander was making his third major-league appearance when he fell awkwardly while trying to cover home plate on a wild pitch. He had surgery on Friday in Los Angeles.
On Saturday, the Angels announced left-hander John Lamb would undergo Tommy John surgery, the fourth pitcher for Los Angeles to have the season-ending surgery this year.
Los Angeles could soon be adding some offensive punch, however.
Shohei Ohtani, the rookie two-way player who is also out with an elbow injury, has been taking live batting practice and running the bases recently, putting him on pace to resume designated hitter duties this week.
“He’s starting to do get through that progression,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia told FOX Sports West on Sunday.
Angels first baseman/designated hitter Jefry Marte is also close to returning from a left wrist injury.
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