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For Titans, Playoffs Begin This Week

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee's final three weeks of the season and playoff hopes are hinged on its ability to rehab, reload, rebound and refocus.

Titans players are trying to rehab nicks and bruises that have built up over the course of the season, and coaches are reloading with players at positions where injuries were too much to overcome. Tennessee must also rebound after a tough 22-17 loss to New Orleans and refocus on a new goal of winning its final three games to put the team in the best position for a Wild Card berth in the AFC playoffs.

The Titans (7-6) close with three straight AFC South opponents. They visit Indianapolis (0-13) Sunday, host Jacksonville (4-9) on Dec. 24 and visit division champ Houston (10-3) on Jan. 1.

Starting quarterback Matt Hasselbeck (calf) and leading receiver Nate Washington (ankle) did not practice Wednesday, and reserve rookie QB Jake Locker (sore chest) was limited. Titans coach Mike Munchak said the team wasn't letting those situations or injuries to other players become a distraction this week.

"I think we are focused. Whenever you lose the game on the last play it's something that takes longer than other games," Munchak said. "As far as focus in the meeting rooms, that's not a problem. Out here it's the same way. They are paying attention to detail and their assignments. The good thing with these three games is we know all three of them very well and we have to brush up on some things and get the plans down, but obviously come Sunday we have to play our best game of the year."

Washington, who sprained his ankle against Buffalo on Dec. 4, missed all practices last week. He responded with a career-best 130 yards on six catches, including a 40-yard scoring pass from Locker and another 40-yard catch that gave Tennessee a chance at the game-winner. He said his ankle felt "tremendously better" compared to this time last week. He's also confident with either quarterback come Sunday.

"Matt said he's feeling pretty good. Jake's feeling pretty good. (Reserve QB) Rusty (Smith) looked great at practice," Washington said. "We're comfortable with all three of them. We have to make sure as an offense that whoever is in there, we have to make plays for them."

Washington and other Titans remember a disappointing 1-8 end to last season. Munchak and the team set a goal of winning the AFC South at the beginning of the season, but Houston claimed its first division title with a comeback win in the final seconds at Cincinnati (7-6) last week. Washington said the Titans are determined to obtain their next goal of making the playoffs, and the first step is winning Sunday.

"I think you lose sight of the December games when you're not playing well at the beginning," Washington said. "With that said, we've seen potential in ourselves and the determination was there. We understand that we can be a good football team and we're not going to let a record or let anything in the playoff situation deter us. We understand that we can be a good football team each week. It's a focus, we've got to make sure we finish the season strong."

Instead of a bevy of late-season injuries, Indianapolis has struggled with the season-long absence of perennial Pro Bowl QB Peyton Manning.

Normally one of the league's most potent offensive attacks, rank next-to-last in yards per game (283.4), last in first downs per game (15.8), last in time of possession (25:20) and in the bottom five of the NFL in rushing yards per game (95.2), passing yards per play (5.6), red zone percentage (43.3), goal-to-go percentage (46.67), points per game (14.2) and turnover ratio (minus-12).

Tennessee hosted and defeated Indianapolis 27-10 on Oct. 30, tipping the scales with a blocked punt by Patrick Bailey that Jason McCourty recovered in the end zone for his first career touchdown.

Washington said the Titans aren't taking anything for granted.

"You can't come into a game like this and just think that you're going to roll over these guys," Washington said. "This is a playoff team, year-in, year-out. The quarterback situation that they're in is the only reason why they're down. They're still playing at a high intensity on defense and still giving everything they can on offense."

Tennessee has suffered multiple injuries on defense as well in recent weeks. McCourty (concussion) and Bailey (hamstring) missed the game against New Orleans, and linebackers Akeem Ayers (shoulder) and Gerald McRath (ankle and knee), and reserve running back Javon Ringer (broken hand) went down last week.

The Titans also placed linebacker Barrett Ruud and safety Anthony Smith on season-ending injured reserve this week. Tennessee elevated Robert Johnson from its practice squad to replace Smith, signed Kevin Malast off the Jaguars' practice squad to replace Ruud and signed defensive back Terrence Wheatley to their practice squad this week. Malast and Johnson are expected to contribute quickly on special teams and add depth at their posts.

"I'm really excited to get out there and perform," Johnson said. "It's been awhile. It's been a crazy roll, but I'm going to get out there and show them why they drafted me last year, show that I've been working hard on the practice squad, and getting activated is something that's a blessing."

Malast opened the 2011 training camp with the Titans but didn't make it through the final cut. Signed on the Jacksonville practice squad last week, Malast had just finished unpacking at his home when he received the call from the Titans. He scrambled to pack, turn in his Jaguars playbook and catch a flight within three hours.

Malast said he was excited to become a member of the same defense and same special teams unit that he was on before the regular season started.

"It's all familiar to me," Malast said. "It's always a privilege to play in games that mean something later on in the season. I'm just happy to be in that position and with this team."

Cornerback Alterraun Verner said the number of recent injuries has "been crazy" but the Titans must continue to adjust.

"The coaches did a good job of trying to prepare us for game-time situations," Verner said. "It's a confidence boost that you can trust them, but it has been crazy. It's been gymnastics here. You don't know who's going to be next to you in the next game at this rate, but everyone's giving 100 percent."

Fullback Ahmard Hall said the Colts have enough talent on both sides of the ball to challenge the Titans, but Tennessee likes the opportunity ahead of it.

"It's exciting that we control our own destiny," Hall said. "I'm not looking past this game with the Colts because that's something of a trap game. Those guys still have two of the top pass rushers in the league with (Dwight) Freeney and (Robert) Mathis. They still have Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon. They still have some playmakers over there, so they can win this ball game if they go out there and we don't accomplish what we need to accomplish."

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