NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Avery Williamson has been waiting for this game all season.
The Jets inside linebacker hasn’t hid his excitement about going home. He said he has “extra motivation” facing his former team and emphasized how much it would mean to beat the Titans.
Any win would be big for the Jets (3-8). Their last victory came on Oct. 14 and they’ve lost five straight since. But Williamson, who spent four years playing for Tennessee, might want it more than anyone else.
“It means a lot to him,” inside linebacker Darron Lee said. “I know he’s had this one circled on his calendar for a long time. He’s definitely preparing well, but he’s been having a chip on his shoulder, having a little side comment here and there about it. I’m looking for him to have a big game.”
Williamson, 26, grew up in Milan, Tennessee, about two hours west of Nashville. His parents and family and friends will be at the game. It will be like old times for the fifth-year pro out of Kentucky, but he’ll be on the other sideline.
As excited as he is, part of Williamson wanted to return to Nissan Stadium for a more meaningful game. He would rather have come back with the Jets in the AFC playoff chase and the defense a big reason why.
Williamson was one of the leading tacklers on last year’s Titans team, which ended an eight-year playoff drought. He’s the Jets’ leading tackler this year, but they’ll miss the playoffs for the eighth straight season.
“It’s tough,” he said. “We’re not doing as well as we thought we would. But at the end of the day, if we could come out with a victory, if we could just play well and come out with a win, that would be very satisfying.
“I didn’t think we were going to be in this hole. We haven’t been playing how we should. We’ve kind of dug ourselves into this hole, myself included. At the end of the day, it’s on us. We got to try to finish strong. Whatever good things we can salvage from this season, we got to do it.”
Williamson wants to be a part of the Jets’ renaissance — whenever that happens. It wasn’t an easy decision for him to leave Tennessee. He left on good terms, but that doesn’t change his desire to hang a loss on his former team.
“It’s always fun to have bragging rights,” Williamson said. “Bragging rights, man. Bragging rights.”
Williamson met with new Titans coach Mike Vrabel and was told the team wanted him back. But Tennessee already had signed former Patriots Malcolm Butler and Dion Lewis to deals worth more than $80 million.
Tennessee reportedly offered Williamson a four-year, $12-million deal that he turned down. He ended up signing a three-year, $22.5-million deal with the Jets.
“I felt like it was a chance to get a fresh start,” he said. “It was a new place. I just really didn’t know what was going to happen with the new coaches and all that. I felt like it would be good to restart here.
“It came down to a few things. But at the end of the day, I felt like this was the best fit.”
Williamson has been a good fit for the Jets’ 3-4 defensive scheme and has been general manager Mike Maccagnan’s best offseason signing.
Cornerback Trumaine Johnson has been injured and hasn’t lived up to his $72-million contract. Center Spencer Long has had issues snapping because of a finger injury. Running back Isaiah Crowell started fast, setting a Jets record with 219 yards rushing in Week 5, before disappearing.
Williamson has been one of the Jets’ most consistent players. He’s been strong against the run but has struggled at times in coverage. He’s held himself accountable, blaming himself when he “messed up” on a couple of long touchdowns this season.
Williamson’s deficiencies in pass coverage kept him from being a three-down linebacker last year. This season, he’s played 99.2 percent of the Jets’ defensive snaps, second to safety Jamal Adams (99.87). Williamson has played every defensive snap since Week 2.
“I feel like I’ve had a solid year, especially for being in a new defense,” he said. “All around, I would say it’s my most productive so far. Just playing faster. So I’m definitely excited about that, the growth of my game. I want to just make sure I continue to keep elevating and not go downhill.”
The Jets feel the same. They have roughly $100 million to spend in free agency this offseason and Maccagnan has said the Jets will be active. They need to be, with edge rusher, receiver, running back and offensive line their biggest areas of need.
Williamson is a solid player who’s still improving. He wants to be part of a Jets team that ends a long playoff absence, the way he helped the Titans do that last season.
“I feel like I can be a part of that,” Williamson said. “Hopefully I am. It would be very special. Now I’m just hoping and praying that we can hit an upward stride.”
“Progress’’ has been the buzzword around the Jets all season. Ownership wanted to see it, but the Jets have done more regressing than progressing. For the final five games, they hope they can make strides.
Rookie quarterback Sam Darnold has missed the last two games with a strained right foot. He was limited in practice all week and listed as questionable for the Titans game. If Darnold doesn’t play, Josh McCown will run the offense for a third straight week.
Maye done for season. Marcus Maye’s injury-plagued season is over. The Jets placed the second-year safety on injured reserve with a shoulder injury. Maye appeared in six games. To fill his spot, the Jets promoted cornerback Jeremy Clark from the practice squad.