Titans playing for more than 'Peanuts'

Tuesday, October 26, 2004 at 1:00am

It is somewhat reminiscent of the old "Peanuts" cartoon where each time Charlie Brown begins to run toward the football to kick it, Lucy inevitably pulls it away. The gag leaves the hard-luck cartoon figure flying helplessly through the air only to land on his back, wondering exactly what happened.

Getting there
Titans (2-5) vs. Cincinnati (2-4)
Sunday, Noon

Every time the 2004 Tennessee Titans appear to be getting close enough to kick the ball, someone or something always manages to whisk it away at the most inopportune time in what has become a not-so-Great Pumpkin of a season.

Sunday in Minneapolis, those pitfalls and pratfalls were highly evident again with four turnovers and 85 yards worth of mostly critical penalties in a 20-3 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

The loss left the Titans 2-5 and left many of the team's veterans suffering through a bad-luck season for the first time in their careers.

Sure, there was the meltdown of 2001, their only playoff miss since 1999, but even that team finished 7-9 and managed to patch its holes well enough to stay competitive in most games.

This time around, it seems the Titans are even struggling to do that - that they are only one miscue away from disaster and their next double-digit loss. Four times already this season, Tennessee has lost by at least 10 points. It happened only four times total in the 2001 campaign.

The struggles of losing, and losing big, are already wearing on the many of the team's veterans, who after each loss struggle for explanations and try to implore their teammates to play better and smarter.

"I think it's just frustration from the guys who are not used to being in the position we're in right now," cornerback Samari Rolle said. "We're 2-5, and it's not fun. We've made the playoffs four out of the last five years, and that's what you come to expect. It's just not happening right now, and it's very hard to deal with."

The hardest part of dealing with the losses appears to be the realization that if the Titans don't play their absolute best game, that one or two miscues will lead to disaster.

"If we make mistakes, we're going to get embarrassed," offensive lineman Jason Mathews said. "And it seems like week in and week out, we come home with our tails between our legs and say, 'We're going to stop next week.'"

Speaking of next week, the Titans' opponent Sunday probably won't have much sympathy for the struggling team on the other sideline. After all, the Cincinnati Bengals seemingly have a patent on struggling, having not had a winning season since 1990, and heading down that path once again.

For the Titans, however, the road to nowhere is largely unexplored, and one they'd prefer to detour off of as soon as possible.

"This is unfamiliar territory for myself, and I'm sure for a lot of people," linebacker Keith Bulluck pointed out.

Titans coach Jeff Fisher isn't ready to jump ship just yet, despite the problems.

"All I'm concerned about is this game Sunday," Fisher said. "I expect [this team] to make a run. I would expect nothing less than to make a run. I don't look at the schedule, nor does the staff, and say, 'Well, the schedule is tough. We're going to win four or five, and that's it.' We expect to win them all, but that starts with this next one."

Defensive end Kevin Carter agreed, saying the Titans must keep on working their way out of this rut.

"It's a very new situation. People in this locker room haven't been used to losing, having been used to taking losses like this," Carter said. "There is nothing else for us to do, but just go back to the drawing board and try to win one game."

Not that different from the unwavering determination shown by good ol' Charlie Brown.

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