The Tennessee Titans rolled the dice coming out of training camp when they elected to keep just five wide receivers — an atypically small number — on the their roster.
They nearly went bust during Sunday’s 24-17 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
Nate Washington and Lavelle Hawkins both were knocked out of action briefly by injuries but managed to return. The same was true of tight end Jared Cook, who runs some routes from wide receiver spots.
A day later coach Mike Munchak said none of the three were expected to miss anymore than one day of practice that week and that all were expected to play this Sunday at Carolina (noon, CBS).
“The game is important to them, they want to win and they’re playing hard,” Munchak said Monday. “… They knew how important that game was [Sunday]. … They wanted to be part of it and they knew we needed them.”
Tennessee had a hard enough time replacing one injured wide receiver — Kenny Britt — during the season. They added fourth-year veteran Donnie Avery, who has been in uniform for all five games since he was signed but has not caught a pass.
Imagine the situation if Washington, Hawkins and Cook all went out at the same time. At the halfway point of the season, they were three of the team’s top four, in terms of receptions and yards, led by Washington (36 receptions, 461 yards).
Even though none of the injuries is likely to cost anyone a game, each was costly in their own right when they happened.
Washington went down with a hip injury on the Titans’ first play of their final drive. Because fewer than two minutes remained and they were out of timeouts, that one meant a 10 second run-off at a time when every second was precious.
Cook took a shot to the outside of the knee with 3:49 to go and fumbled after a nine-yard reception. The Bengals recovered and extended their lead to seven points with a field goal.
Hawkins dislocated a finger — Munchak called it an “open dislocation” — on his right hand and was out the longest. He was hurt on an incomplete pass thrown to him with 7:46 remaining in the third quarter, went to the locker room for a time and did not have another ball thrown his way until late in the fourth.
That, on a day he was targeted seven times and finished with team-highs of five receptions and 63 yards (both career-highs).
Plus, Hawkins’ injury is likely to have consequences that linger the longest.
“Unfortunately when you catch the ball for a living, that’s going to make it a little tougher for him,” Munchak said.
Any loss of a receiver at this point would be extremely challenging for the Titans.
• Five scoring plays in Titans’ games have been reviewed under this season’s expanded instant replay rules, the latest being the ruling that the Bengals recovered a fumble and returned it two yards for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
Four of the reviews have gone in Tennessee’s favor. Two of its own touchdowns were upheld and two of three opponents’ scores, including the Cincinnati’s, were reversed.
“We assumed that one would go our way,” Munchak said. “Luckily it did.”
• Veteran safety Chris Hope is expected to practice this week after having missed the last four games with a broken forearm.
Munchak said how much, if at all, he plays at Carolina and whether or not he regains his role as a starter has yet to be determined.
“We’ll see where he’s at and if he can help us on Sunday or not,” Munchak said.