NASHVILLE, Tenn. - An ugly win. A brutal loss. A game to forget.
That's how it went last season when the Titans and New York Jets last faced each other, a 14-10 victory by Tennessee on Dec. 7 that was as difficult to watch as it was to play at LP Field. And it all ended when Mark Sanchez fumbled away a snap on the Jets' final drive with less than a minute to go, punctuating a pitiful performance by New York.
"Man, that's a feeling that was last year," Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie said, refusing to reflect on that game. "We're talking about the 2013 season now and we're 2-1 and we've got the opportunity to be 3-1 through the first quarter of the season."
The Titans can say the same since both teams have brushed off 6-10 finishes from last season to start this year off with some surprising — and mostly unexpected — hope.
"We're probably two teams that in the beginning of the year that no one really thought we had a chance," Titans running back Chris Johnson said.
Both teams' defences have played a large part in the early season success, with the Jets allowing 270 yards a game and the Titans giving up just under 308. That will provide a tough test Sunday for the AFC's top two rushers, with Johnson leading the way with 256 yards and the Jets' Bilal Powell just 30 yards behind.
"It's a big home-field advantage to them, so we have to overcome that, too," Jets coach Rex Ryan said. "The focus has to be great when you're there since you're going against a very physical football team."
Some of the sloppiness that marked last year's meeting is still there, with the Jets leading the league in penalties and penalty yardage, while the Titans are tied for fifth in both categories.
The Jets overcame a franchise-record 20 penalties last week in beating the Bills 27-20, the first team to win despite being flagged that many times since 1951. The Titans have had 20 penalties in their past two games, the first an overtime loss in Houston and the second a 20-17 win over San Diego.
Tennessee had 10 by halftime last week before cleaning up its act.
"We still want to be physical," Titans coach Mike Munchak said, "but just play smarter."
With both teams expecting a much better showing this time around, here are five things to watch in Sunday's game:
Defence: Ryan proclaimed in the off-season that the Jets' defence would rank in the top five this season, and so far, so good.
New York ranks third in total defence and second in allowing opponents to convert 26.9 per cent of third downs. The Jets also have shown they can get to the quarterback, sacking the Bills' EJ Manuel eight times — their most since 1988.
The Titans added four new starters and two other key veteran additions after giving up an NFL-worst 471 points, and are off to a much better start while giving up 18.7 points a game.
WATCH CJ: The Jets bottled up Johnson for much of the game — well, except for a franchise-record 94-yard TD in the second quarter.
"By the way, I still have whiplash from that 94-yard run Johnson had last year on us," Ryan said. "My neck's still bothering me."
MOBILE QUARTERBACKS: Geno Smith ran for his first touchdown last week and threw for 331 yards, the first Jets rookie to throw for 300 or more yards. Titans quarterback Jake Locker ran for a career-best 68 yards and a TD last week. Locker also ran for a touchdown the last time these teams met, and Munchak said the quarterback has been told to make something happen when he can.
"If he can do those things, that's another weapon," Munchak said. "That's a big problem for a defence."
TAKING CARE OF THE BALL: The Titans are one of only two NFL teams without a turnover this season, along with the Chiefs. Tennessee became the fifth team in the Super Bowl era without a turnover through the first three games. The Titans will have a chance to tie the 1995 St. Louis Rams for the longest streak to start a season in NFL history if they can protect the ball against the Jets.
The Titans have five takeaways on defence, and cornerback Alterraun Verner has two interceptions and a fumble recovery. Smith has been intercepted six times, tying him for second-most in the NFL.
RECEIVERS: Jets receiver Santonio Holmes had a career-best 154 yards receiving, including his longest TD catch on a 69-yarder. Holmes is averaging 24.2 yards per catch, putting him second in the league, showing he's recovered from a foot injury that sidelined him for most of last season. Teammate Stephen Hill also is coming off his first 100-yard receiving game.
Nate Washington just posted his best game with 131 yards receiving for the Titans, but all eyes will be on Kenny Britt, who has struggled with drops, mental mistakes and penalties much of the first three games.
AP sports writer Dennis Waszak in New York contributed to this report.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org
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