Titans' challenge: Keep winning to keep hope alive
The Tennessee Titans, written off after their 0-6 start, are about to do the unimaginable and play a game that matters in December.
And not merely as a would-be spoiler.
With six wins in seven games, the Titans are just a game back in the loss column for the AFC's final wild-card spot. Next up is a visit Sunday from Miami (7-6), one of the five teams they must chase down with three games left. Both teams must win out, and no AFC team needs more aid than Tennessee.
``It's an AFC elimination game basically,'' Titans defensive back Vincent Fuller said Monday. ``The team that loses can say that after Week 17 their season will be over where the team that wins will basically be able to say they still have hope.''
No NFL team has ever started 0-5 and reached the playoffs, so the Titans' 0-6 start with all six losses in the AFC made their quest for a third straight postseason berth seem impossible. Then the Titans started climbing out of that hole, making history by bouncing back with five straight wins.
They stumbled Dec. 4 with a loss at Indianapolis, erasing any margin for error. Extra pressure? Not for these Titans.
``We've been looking at it since Week 7, Week 8,'' Fuller said. ``We have to win if we want to have hope for the postseason. We're fortunate to be able to say there still is hope for the postseason, but we know we have to win this game.''
The biggest question will be the health of Vince Young, who is day to day with a mild strained right hamstring. Coach Jeff Fisher said Monday that tests on the hamstring were ``good'' and that the quarterback hasn't been ruled out against the Dolphins. The coach also hopes to have Young on the practice field Wednesday but said he could play without practicing.
``It's unlikely that he'll be 100 percent, but still there's different levels,'' Fisher said. ``Again, we're encouraged, and he'll be day to day.''
Miami is the second in a three-game homestand at LP Field where the Titans have won four straight.
The Titans certainly are rolling right now, coming off a 47-7 win over St. Louis on Sunday that was their biggest win since a 47-10 victory on Thanksgiving 2008 in Detroit.
The defense intercepted a season-high five passes and shut down the NFL's second-leading rusher, holding Steven Jackson to a season-low 47 yards on 19 carries. Fuller called that good preparation for another physical running back in Miami's Ricky Williams, who needs 25 yards to reach 1,000 yards this season.
Chris Johnson posted an eighth straight 100-yard rushing game and now is 374 yards from becoming only the sixth player in NFL history to run for 2,000 yards in a single season. With 1,626 yards, he trails Eric Dickerson's NFL record for most yards rushing in a season (2,105) by 479 yards.
``No matter what back I'm going against, I want to outperform him,'' Johnson said after the win over the Rams.
Tennessee also spent some time against St. Louis working on its scoring offense inside the opponent's 20. The Titans had only two touchdowns on their first nine possessions, so Fisher went for the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the Rams in the fourth quarter. It worked as Kerry Collins found Alge Crumpler for a 1-yard TD pass.
``If someone there was offended, then so be it,'' Fisher said.
``We were trying to score points and win a ball game. I can kick a field goal, and that's automatic points. You go for it on fourth down, at least I'm giving them a chance to make a stop. If they were offended, then I guess they'll have to work through their own issues.''
A week ago, Fisher embraced the talk of playoff possibilities preparing for a one-win St. Louis team. He changed tactics Monday back to his usual focus on the next opponent.
``The playoffs are after the regular season is over. What we're going to do is play this game because it's our next game, it's our next opponent. I think it's fair to say, without being disrespectful to the Rams, I think the Miami Dolphins are a little bit better than the team we played yesterday,'' Fisher said.
NOTES: Fisher said linebacker David Thornton was having tests on a shoulder injury that knocked him out of the win over the Rams.