NASHVILLE, Tenn. –** The Titans walked off the Nissan Stadium field disappointed on Sunday -- another close game had escaped their grasp.
When coach Mike Mularkey met with players in the locker room after the 27-23 loss to the Los Angeles Rams, his message was simple: Be prepared to fight for survival next week.
So we've come to this: A win next week against the Jaguars, and the Titans will be playoff bound.
"It's a very tough, disappointing loss," defensive lineman Jurrell Casey said. "But all that matters now is we still have a fighting chance, and … that's why we are not sweating it right now. We have a chance. These last three games have been a bummer, but once you get in the playoffs everybody is going to love us."
Tight end Delanie Walker said the Titans better come out fighting.
"I don't know how everyone else feels, but I am disappointed," Walker said. "To lose three games (in a row) like this. We keep saying we can get this W. Well, (we) better have a fight and come and be ready to go.
"We have our backs against the wall. We can only fight our way out."
The Titans showed plenty of fight on Sunday, but it wasn't enough against the Rams.
Not when the team wasted opportunities in the red zone, and failed to produce big plays with the game on the line. The team also had trouble slowing down Rams running back Todd Gurley, who racked up 276 all-purpose yards and scored two touchdowns.
Sunday's loss, which came on the heels of back-to-back losses at Arizona and San Francisco, helped the Jaguars clinch the AFC South. But the Titans, as a result of Buffalo's loss at New England on Sunday, can still clinch a playoff spot next Sunday at Nissan Stadium with a win. It would improve the team's record to 9-7, and the Titans would win playoff tiebreakers with other teams.
"From what I understand, all the scenarios, we have to win next week to be in," Mularkey said after the game. "We have to get to work. We have another good football team coming into our place."
On Christmas Eve, it's keeping the Titans afloat right now.
"I ain't going to lie – that is the only thing keeping our spirits up that we can still be a playoff team," safety Kevin Byard said. "We can still get in the party and make a run. And that is the only thing we can focus on now. We have to turn it up another notch."
Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota completed 22-of-39 passes for 275 yards, with an interception, in Sunday's game. But he was unable to finish off a late drive that ended in Los Angeles territory. On this day, too many times the Titans had to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns.
The Rams (11-4) clinched the NFC West with the win.
Rams quarterback Jared Goff completed 22-of-38 passes for 301 yards and four touchdowns in the contest. Gurley ran for 118 yards on 22 carries, and he also caught 10 passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns.
The two teams exchanged punches all day.
The Rams took a 6-0 lead in the first quarter on a three-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Goff to Gurley before the Titans cut the lead to 6-3 on a 25-yard field goal by kicker Ryan Succop. But the 13-play, 62-yard drive left fans – and the team – hoping for more. The Titans had it first-and-goal at the one-yard line, but a fumble and a sack backed the team up, and they settled for a field goal.
The Titans made a big play on defense when Casey busted into the Rams backfield and hammered Goff before he could hand the ball off to Gurley. When the ball popped loose, linebacker Wesley Woodyard scooped it up and ran it in for a four-yard touchdown to make it 10-6.
The Nissan Stadium crowd exploded in excitement.
But the Rams quickly answered back, scoring on an 80-yard touchdown completion from Goff to Gurley on a screen pass. Gurley caught the ball with plenty of space, and after he veered in the middle of the field he raced to the end zone to make it 13-10 with 4:24 left before the half. The Titans then tied it up just before halftime on a 37-yard field goal by Succop.
The Titans had a chance to take the lead early in the third quarter, but Succop misfired on a 45-yard field goal, and the game remained tied at 13-13.
The Rams took a 20-13 lead on a three-yard touchdown pass from Goff to receiver Sammie Watkins. It followed a controversial fourth-and-1 made conversion for the Rams, who got a 10-yard run from Gurley on a play when replays showed a Rams offensive lineman moving before the snap. A penalty wasn't called, and the Rams capitalized.
The Titans rallied back, first scoring on a six-yard touchdown run by running back DeMarco Murray, which capped a five-play, 44-yard drive. The short scoring drive was set up by a 57-yard kickoff return by rookie Adoree' Jackson.
The Titans then took a 23-20 lead on Succop's 27-yard field goal, with 14:47 remaining, but the Rams kept coming, reclaiming the lead 27-23 on a 14-yard touchdown toss from Goff to receiver Cooper Kupp with 11:51 left.
The Titans had a chance to win in late. But after taking over at their own 20-yard line with 3:25 left and driving across midfield, the drive stalled. An incomplete pass by Mariota on a 4th-and-4 from the Los Angeles 43-yard line was Tennessee's last hope on this day.
Now, the team turns its attention to next week.
"We just want a chance; we just want an opportunity," Mariota said. "We let one slip away – we've let three in a row slip away. But all you can ever ask for is an opportunity. I am looking forward to getting back to work. … This is our season, and we are looking forward to it."
The Tennessee Titans take on the Los Angeles Rams in Week 16 at Nissan Stadium. (Photos: Donn Jones, AP)