By TERESA M. WALKER
AP Sports Writer
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The New York Jets turned to the running game over the past month to help limit turnovers and have ground away enough to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.
Chris Johnson is ready to help the Titans snap a three-game losing streak if Tennessee and its new offensive coordinator can get him the ball more often.
“If the running game gets going, I can make plays in the running game and I think we can win these last three games,” Johnson said.
The Jets and Titans sound ready for some old-school football tonight when simply winning matters above all, even if New York has something more to play for than Tennessee. The Jets (6-7) are a game out of the AFC’s sixth and final playoff seed and finish against three teams with losing records starting with the Titans (4-9).
“We’re not really thinking about the playoffs right now,” Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez said. “We’re just trying to string together a couple of wins. We know we have a big challenge in Nashville on Monday night. It’s a good opportunity for our team to hopefully play well. I think we had a good day today. It should be fun for us.”
The Titans already are eliminated and trying to keep jobs. They also want to prove to owner Bud Adams in the process that they are improving, even if this season has been ugly on the field with losses in four of the past five games. Frustrations grew after blowing a 20-7 halftime lead last week in losing 27-23 at Indianapolis.
“We’re just tired of losing,” Titans safety Michael Griffin said. “Everybody’s motivated still to go out and play football and try to get a win.”
The Jets have done just that in winning, even if it hasn’t been pretty. They have won two straight and three of four by running as much as possible, averaging 146.5 yards the past four games — fourth-best in the AFC in that stretch. It’s helped take the ball away from Sanchez, who has one more interception (13) than touchdown passes (12) along with a banged-up receiving corps.
Shonn Green and Bilal Powell have been splitting the work and the yards, helping the Jets pull out ugly wins over Arizona and Jacksonville the past two games. Powell has a sore toe, but X-rays show it’s not broken for some good news for New York. Now Tim Tebow’s two broken ribs are feeling better, and coach Rex Ryan said that may bring the wildcat option back into play for the Jets.
“It’s good, I think the run game has really picked up,” Sanchez said.
“I think the offense played really well, exceptionally well. Early in the game, those shorter runs have yielded bigger gains later on. I’m proud of that front five and even our big guys coming in to block, the receivers look good blocking downfield. We’ve been, for the most part, efficient in the passing game. It’s been a good combination for us.”
Sanchez also should have receiver Braylon Edwards available tonight after being claimed off waivers from Seattle on Tuesday. He has caught eight passes for 74 yards in 10 games with Seattle and has been hampered by a sore hamstring. The Jets have thrown for 129 yards or less in six games this season, including just 104 yards in the 17-10 win at Jacksonville last week.
“Whatever the game plan dictates and however the game goes,” Sanchez said. “We’ve been fortunate to be able to run the ball well these last couple weeks. We’ll take it one game at a time.”
Griffin knows what to expect from the Jets.
“I’m pretty sure they watch film and see some teams have been able to run the ball on us,” the Titans safety said.
Tennessee is allowing 129.4 yards rushing per game, 27th in the league, and couldn’t get off the field last week to get the ball back for the offense.
The Titans haven’t run much the past two games since Dowell Loggains took over at coordinator. They haven’t had many chances with Jake Locker turning the ball over seven times, and they also unveiled a revamped offensive line last week after losing two more starters to injuries. Left tackle Michael Roos is the only starter left from the original line.
Titans coach Mike Munchak said they definitely need to get the run game going and ease the pressure on their first-year starting quarterback.
“Yeah, it’s going to be big,” Munchak said. “We know they’re going to try to run it a lot. It should be a challenge on both ends, for us to be able to run it, and for us to be able to stop the run.”
Ryan has had his hands full trying to rally the Jets, who started the season with high expectations but haven’t been above .500 since their 2-1 start. He’s looking ahead only to this game.
“We’ve just been trying to get our team to improve, and that’s really where my focus has been,” Ryan said.