NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – The Tennessee Titans are in a stretch that can be called their own version of a Manning family reunion. They host Eli and his New York Giants on Sunday, with his brother Peyton and the Indianapolis Colts coming up next.

The Giants only hope Eli Manning starts playing more like his big brother. And soon.

Manning is coming off two of his worst games since his rookie season, and the Giants (6-4) have lost each. They must beat the Titans (3-7) to tie Dallas atop the NFC East before hosting the Cowboys on Dec. 3. Manning insists he’s fine, that he hasn’t lost his confidence, and this was just a bad stretch.

“We are not in a bad situation,” Manning said. “We just have to get to playing good football. It is going to come down to these last six games.”

Titans safety Chris Hope is worried how Manning will react.

“All this negative criticism he’s getting is only going to make him play excellent against us. I think we may have been a week too late to get the bad play,” Hope said.

Manning and the Giants must correct their mistakes, and they are running out of time. The team that won five straight in October is struggling with a list of injuries on defense, and poor play. Tiki Barber complained about the play calling again after Monday night’s 26-10 loss at Jacksonville, a game in which he had only 10 carries for 27 yards.

A must-win for the defending NFC East champions?

“If we were to lose three in a row, you start getting this bad feeling,” Barber said. “You don’t want to call it karma, permeating throughout our locker room. And you start to lose that confidence, and things start to spiral out of control. So, in a lot of ways, yes, this is.”

New York must bounce back without left tackle Luke Petitgout (broken leg) and with defensive end Michael Strahan (foot) likely missing his third straight game. Cornerback Sam Madison (hamstring) has had great games against Titans quarterbacks while with Miami, but he’s also doubtful.

Manning attempted a season-high 41 passes in the loss at Jacksonville and looked unsure at times, including a lost fumble returned for a touchdown that luckily was negated by a penalty. Coach Jeff Fisher, whose Titans also lost ugly in Jacksonville earlier this month, discounted Manning’s struggles.

“He’s had some real big games thus far. He’s coming on,” Fisher said. “Our concern is how he bounces back, because in the past he’s bounced back very well.”

Manning hasn’t had Amani Toomer in the past two games, so he likely will look for 6-foot-5 Plaxico Burress and Jeremy Shockey against a Titans secondary with only one player – safety Lamont Thompson – over 6-foot. Tennessee is giving up 227.8 yards passing per game.

The Giants also are dealing with a short work week, with a holiday thrown in, between two road trips. Coach Tom Coughlin doesn’t mind those problems, not this week.

“It keeps us from talking a lot about the last game we played,” he said.

If that weren’t enough, the Giants must play a rebuilding team playing with lots of confidence. The Titans have won three of their last five, including a 31-13 victory last week in Philadelphia. With Travis Henry and rookie quarterback Vince Young, they are averaging a league-best 166.2 yards rushing over the past six weeks.

“Guys have that swagger going into this game, so hopefully we can win,” Titans defensive tackle Robaire Smith said.

Young has either run or thrown for a touchdown in eight straight games. He hasn’t thrown for more than 211 yards in any game, but a win would make him 4-4 as a starter. Barber said the Giants know Young is dangerous.

“He’s got the ability to keep drives alive with his legs on third down. You never know when he’s going to hit that proverbial “I get it’ game. We have to be wary of that,” Barber said.

Young completed only eight passes against the Eagles for 101 yards, but he ran for 49 yards. The Titans were opportunistic, scoring touchdowns rushing, passing, off a fumble return and a punt return – the second time they’ve done that this season.

He understands what number matters most.

“The biggest stat to me is the win,” he said.

AP-ES-11-24-06 1310EST



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