Originally posted on Fox Sports Tennessee  |  Last updated 12/2/11
Chris Johnson needs 301 yards over the Titans' final five games to reach 1,000 for the season. The Titans probably need wins in four out of those five games to reach 10 victories and have a shot at the postseason. Both milestones would seem to go hand in hand. Coming off Sunday's 23-17 win over Tampa Bay in which Johnson ran for a season-high 190 yards, the Titans (6-5) again can look towards the postseason with a degree of possibility. Earlier this week Johnson, the 2009 NFL rushing champion, was asked if attaining the 1,000-yard mark was important to him. "It's really more important for me to go to the playoffs," he said. "... It was one of my main goals coming into this year." But then he conceded, "For any running back, getting over 1,000 yards is a pretty good job. If you're a star running back, of course, you want to go over 1,000 yards." Sandwiched around Johnson's season-low of 13 yards on 12 carries in Nov. 20's 23-17 loss at Atlanta are two 100-yard rushing games -- which gives Titans head coach Mike Munchak some optimism. "We've been talking about that all year -- how it hasn't been up to the standard we like," Munchak told reporters on Wednesday, "but, like I said, we're hoping these last eight weeks we change that. Two out of the last three games, we've done that and we have to finish real strong and I think if we do that, the 1,000 yards will be an easy thing to reach. "...For us, a successful year running the ball is the fact that we win football games these next five games by running the ball. That has to be a big part of it or we're going to have a hard time winning..." The Titans have two plausible paths to the playoffs. The first would be that AFC South-leading Houston (8-3), down to its third-string quarterback because of injuries, implodes. The Texans host a hot Atlanta team (7-4), winners of five out of six, on Sunday. If the Texans lose to Atlanta and then again next week to Cincinnati (7-4), and the Titans go on the road this week and win in Buffalo (5-6) and then upset New Orleans (8-3) the following week at LP Field, the teams would be tied atop the division. Houston then has two relatively easy opponents in Carolina (3-8) and Indianapolis (0-11) before the season finale in Houston with the Titans, which would carry huge implications. To catch the Bengals, who defeated the Titans earlier this season and currently hold the AFC's second and final wildcard spot, the Titans would likely need to go 4-1 while the Bengals go 2-3. Cincinnati has three opponents left with 8-3 records: Pittsburgh this weekend, Houston next week and in its season finale against Baltimore. The Titans, meanwhile, would only have to defeat one team with a winning record -- either New Orleans or Houston -- to go 4-1, as long as they beat Buffalo, Indianapolis and Jacksonville (3-8). To go the wildcard route, the Titans would also have to worry about fighting off teams like the New York Jets (6-5). While emphasizing to the media on Wednesday that the Titans need to run the ball to be successful, Munchak, the team's former long-time offensive line coach, made that point to the unit itself last week. With the benefit of a victory under his belt, Munchak downplayed his challenge to the line. "I think the film speaks for itself," he said. "They hold themselves accountable. Hopefully, we're stating the obvious to guys the game means a lot to...The results were better than they had been." The day after the game, Munchak talked about success in the running game feeding off itself in a virtuous cycle. Earlier in the year, struggles in that phase proved a vicious cycle and Johnson came close to calling out his offensive line for not blocking well enough. "When you have some success at something finally... the confidence builds for everybody -- Chris, the line, the play caller," Munchak said. "Going into Buffalo, you feel good about what you're starting to become." Winning, as they say, heals all wounds. Johnson, in his weekly talk with the media on Wednesday, spoke often about being on the "same page" as the line. "You get in your groove and things like that," Johnson said. "... You and your offensive line get on the same page." After beating Tampa Bay, the Titans already have equaled last year's win total. Some would say that would represent a success in Munchak's first season. While it's not the raging success of another first-year coach like San Francisco's Jim Harbaugh, it's also not the growing pains of Carolina and Minnesota (2-0), who, like Tennessee, also drafted quarterbacks in the first-round to go with their rookie head coaches. (A major difference being that the Titans' signing of a veteran quarterback in Matt Hasselbeck worked out much better than Minnesota's signing of Donovan McNabb, released on Thursday, while Carolina started its rookie quarterback.) For his part, Johnson said it would be hard to deem the season a success without making the playoffs. Munchak did not entirely agree, but he still has sights set high. "Ultimately, right now, it's all about making the playoffs," he said. "We'd like to win the division, number one, that's the first goal."
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