NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee's opening possessions have been linked to its final outcomes this season.
The Titans have scored four times on their opening possessions in 15 games this season and are 3-1 in those contests, compared to 5-6 when they have not scored the first time they've touched the ball.
Another early indicator for Tennessee is the number of offensive plays it runs on its opening possessions. The Titans are 5-1 in the six games in which they have run at least six offensive plays to open the game and are 3-6 when they have run fewer plays on their first possessions.
The Titans didn't yield points on their first possession against Jacksonville last week, but Matt Hasselbeck completed passes to Damian Williams and Jared Cook to build rhythm and move the ball. Although the drive stalled, Tennessee pinned the Jaguars deep in their own territory with a punt by Brett Kern.
The next Titans possession resulted in a 51-yard field goal by Rob Bironas, and Hasselbeck threw a 55-yard touchdown to Cook on Tennessee's next play. Cook finished with 169 receiving yards — a franchise record for a Titans/Oilers tight end — and the Titans never trailed in a 23-17 win.
Cook said Tennessee (8-7) needs to start fast against Houston (10-5) Sunday in the regular-season finale to keep alive its playoff hopes. The Titans must win against the Texans, need Cincinnati (9-6) to lose to Baltimore (11-4) and additional help to make their first postseason trip since 2008.
"You've just got to come out and get a hot start and let the flames rise," Cook said. "Make it hot for them and make things happen. Get early points and keep our defense off the field and make sure they have plenty of rest to go out against their offense."
Hasselbeck completed 24 of 40 passes for 350 yards to six teammates against the Jaguars. He had a 48-yarder to Damian Williams, a 26-yarder to Nate Washington and a 17-yard completion to Craig Stevens in addition to the perfectly thrown spiral that Cook caught in stride and streaked away from his man-to-man matchup against Paul Posluszny. Cook capped the catch-and-run by jumping into the air, lifting his legs sideways and landing with a thud that teammates have kidded him about.
"Everybody was like, 'What was that?' I was just excited," Cook said. "It was kind of like jumping into a lake or doing an elbow drop off the top rope (in wrestling)."
Cook and other Titans players hope to make a splash against Houston's defense, which ranks second in yards allowed per game (280.7), third in yards per play (4.7) and fourth in points per game (17.0).
"Hopefully this is just kind of a preview of what's to come, especially from the offense," Cook said. "It feels good when you're out there and the offense is clicking and everybody's catching balls and everyone's getting to eat and getting their fill. It opens up the offense and helps everybody out."
Cook has 45 catches for 696 yards and three touchdowns this season. He is 73 yards away from breaking Frank Wychek's 1998 record of 768 yards in a season, and Washington, who leads Tennessee with 70 catches for 931 yards, is 69 yards away from his first 1,000-yard season.
Both Cook and Washington said they don't care about the individual marks.
"We've got to get some points early on this defense," Washington said. "They are definitely one of the top-ranked defenses in this league. With that being said, we can't pass up any opportunities. We have to make sure we're accountable for everything that we do on Sunday and when our number is called, and we have the opportunity to put some points up, we've got the opportunity to be there."
Hasselbeck said the team's energy before the game against Jacksonville was better than the previous week when the Titans fell to a previously winless Indianapolis team that has since upended the Texans.
"The challenge for us is to keep it all business and serious and focused yet kind of light and have fun," Hasselbeck said. "Let's enjoy this. Let's have fun. We came out last week and we had a lot more energy than the week before. We came out with a little more enthusiasm. We were excited. We were having fun. We were making plays, it gets contagious. I think that's the recipe for success for this team is partly serious, professional, focused, ready to go, prepared, hard-nosed, but we need that emotion."