Why this game is intriguing: Will this be one of the more low-profile games on Sunday? Yup. Yet the stakes are astoundingly high for both teams, though probably more so for Tennessee. Any time owner Bud Adams throws down the gauntlet and puts the Titans on notice, they had better respond. It doesn't sound like changes will come during the season in Tennessee, but anything is possible after the year's over. Last week's embarrassment against the Chicago Bears sparked Adams' outburst. The Titans simply must look better; the "or else" is understood. The Dolphins, meanwhile, are improbably trending upward, and quarterback Ryan Tannehill gets a chance to continue his impressive ways against as welcoming a defense as he'll find. One victory gets Miami back over .500 and into the playoff mix.
The Tennessee Titans were so thoroughly embarrassed last week that even their 89-year-old owner said he'd never seen anything like it.
Turning things around may take more than just the return of quarterback Jake Locker.
After being put on notice, visiting Tennessee hopes to bounce back Sunday against a Miami Dolphins team looking to boost its playoff chances in the first of two games in a five-day stretch.
Bud Adams, who founded the Titans as the Houston Oilers in 1960 before moving the franchise to Tennessee prior to the 1997 season, wasn't shy about criticizing his coaches and players following last week's 51-20 loss to Chicago.
The Titans (3-6) committed five turnovers while allowing their most points since a 59-0 loss to New England on Oct. 18, 2009. Adding to the embarrassment, the contest felt more like a road game as reportedly more than half of LP Field consisted of Bears fans.
"In my 50 years of owning an NFL franchise, I am at a loss to recall a regular-season home game that was such a disappointment for myself and fans of the Titans," Adams said. "We were grossly outcoached and outplayed from start to finish."
Adams followed by saying everyone from the front office down to the practice squad would be evaluated over the duration of the season, and coach Mike Munchak didn't blame Adams for being upset.
"I would probably have said the same thing if I were him," Munchak said. "This is his team. He expects us to play well, especially at home. That's our job. That's my job to make sure we're out there playing our best and winning games at home hopefully every time we line up."
Even lining up was difficult Sunday, getting called for two consecutive illegal formation penalties that led to a punt which was blocked and recovered by Chicago for a touchdown.
Chris Johnson lost two fumbles and finished with 117 yards only after an 80-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter when the game was out of hand. Tennessee is allowing an NFL-worst 34.2 points per game and is nine points short of matching the 317 it gave up all of last season.
Still, Munchak doesn't anticipate making drastic changes to his staff.
"We have to win football games right now," he said. "I'm not spending my time deciding on making coaching changes, and no, I'm not thinking of doing that."
One difference this week will be the presence of Locker, who has missed the last five games after dislocating his non-throwing shoulder in a loss to Houston on Sept. 30.
Locker began working with the starters in practice Wednesday, and Munchak said he'll start Sunday barring any setbacks. The 2011 first-round pick had a career-high 378 yards passing and his first NFL victory in his last full game Sept. 23 against Detroit.
Matt Hasselbeck is 2/3 since taking over as the starter and his 81.3 passer rating ranks 24th in the NFL.
Miami, meanwhile, has been pleased with the play of rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who hasn't thrown an interception since the day Locker was injured.
The Dolphins (4-4) are one game back of AFC East-leading New England, but they fell 23-20 to Indianapolis last week despite Tannehill finishing 22 of 38 for 290 yards and a touchdown.
"I couldn't ask for a better job out of him," running back Reggie Bush said. "He's really poised back there."
Miami, which had a three-game winning streak snapped, looks to improve its hopes of reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2008 with back-to-back games against sub-.500 opponents. After facing the struggling Titans, the Dolphins have a short week before next Thursday night's visit to Buffalo, loser of two straight and four of five.
"We've had some good games, some not-so-good games, and some bad games," Tannehill said. "You have to realize where you are at and push forward. We are at a critical point in the season, halfway through, and it can go either way from here."
Miami may need especially big performances from Tannehill if Bush can't help boost a running game averaging only 74.2 yards over the last five. Bush has rushed for more than 69 yards once all season after ending last year with four consecutive 100-yard games.
He could be helped by facing a Tennessee defense which ranks 30th in the league against the run, giving up an average of 141.6 yards.
Johnson ran for 117 yards and a touchdown in the most recent meeting Nov. 14, 2010, butAnthony Fasano caught five passes for 107 yards and a score in the Dolphins' 29-17 home victory. The Titans have lost three straight and six of seven in Miami.