Titans veterans happy to clear playoff hurdle

Wednesday, January 2, 2008 at 1:34am

Once upon a time in the NFL, the Tennessee Titans were a playoff and Super Bowl contender every year.

But the days of 1999 through 2003 seem like long ago not only to some fans, but also veteran players who were a part of those teams.

The Titans spent four seasons on the outside of the playoffs looking in after starting over because of salary cap problems that at one time left Tennessee less than $1,000 under the cap before the blowup.

That drought ended Sunday night when the Titans defeated the Indianapolis Colts 16-10 to claim the final spot in the AFC playoff field.

It was especially gratifying for the few Titans players who were holdovers from the last playoff runs.

“I think it’s great. I remember a year or two years ago, we were the youngest team in the NFL. Now, we’re a team that’s in the playoffs,” said linebacker Keith Bulluck, one of just four Titans remaining from Tennessee’s previous playoff teams. “Two or three years ago, we had four wins and now we have 10. That’s great and to get in the playoffs and for these guys to get that feeling experience of what it’s going to be like in a big game, it’s something they’ll never forget. We won’t forget it as a team for the rest of this year and next year.”

Bulluck, along with defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, guard Benji Olson, running back Chris Brown and punter Craig Hentrich, are the only ones to see the entire rebuilding cycle through.

“It feels great,” said Olson, who has hinted that 2007 could be his final NFL season. “Hopefully, we’re starting something that’s going to carry on for the next few years and down the road. Hopefully, we can keep the momentum going.

“It’s a good feeling to be able to stick those rough years out and to be here still and see the team to rise up to the top again and be competitive with the best teams in the league.”

Titans coach Jeff Fisher credited the players, but also complimented others from owner Bud Adams on down who had made significant contributions toward getting the Tennessee ship back on a playoff course.

“I think a lot of people are to be credited to that, starting with Mr. Adams and his understanding of what we had to do,” Fisher said. “[Former general manager] Floyd [Reese], with the plan that we had in place knowing that in 2005 we were going to have to pretty much start over and draft, and that it may take some time.

“The plan was that in this day and age, it doesn’t take that long. We knocked on the door last year, and we made it (this year). A lot of people are to be complimented for that, particularly the players.”

Simply making the playoffs won’t be satisfactory, though. The Titans would like to establish themselves further, both now and for seasons to come.

“We’re still rebuilding. We’re still not there. I didn’t think we played our best ball [Sunday],” Haynesworth said. “Even though we got a win, we’ve still got to play better to beat San Diego next week.”

Added Fisher, “The key here is not to all of a sudden take a deep breath, throw your arms up in the air and say, ‘We made it.’ We expect to make it every year. We made it, now we need to do something about it.”

INJURIES: Fisher had little to say Monday regarding the injury status of quarterback Vince Young and others who exited the game against the Colts.

Young suffered a right quadriceps injury similar to what caused him to miss a game in Houston earlier this season.

“We’ll see how he is. We haven’t ruled him out. It will be a day-to-day thing,” was the best Fisher would offer on Monday regarding his starting quarterback.

Running back Chris Brown (back) and cornerback Nick Harper (groin) also left the game early on Sunday, while center Kevin Mawae (calf) and linebacker Gilbert Gardner (calf) were inactive because of previous injuries.

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By: junebugfan on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Sounds like VY's out. Hopefully Fischer will come up with a little less predictable game plan than usual. They will definitely have to run the ball to keep the pressure off of Collins. Hopefully he took note of the game plan Indy's starting offense used against us, just as the Pats did against the Giants, with all the quick passes/short routes. I don't think we even came close to hitting Peyton once in that game. Collins is an extremely accurate passer, and that would be the perfect type of offense for him given his inability to allude a pass rush.

By: producer2 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

junebugfan,do you think tey just invent the offensive style they are going to play a week before each game? They may pass some more if Kerry is in but the plays are not going to change much. the biggest issue for Collins is he is a brick in the pocket and cannot move out of harms way. If he plays and San Diego gets their normal rush we are in deep trouble. VY without wheels will not help us much either, so we better hope our running game is working.

By: junebugfan on 12/31/69 at 6:00

producer2, Yes, actually teams DO adjust their offensive & defensive strategies each week - it's called game planning. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, Fisher isn't as good at it as a lot of other coaches. That's why we are so good at game planning against division opponents, no so much against unfamiliar ones. (BTW- Jacksonville was pretty successful at changing their "style" on both sides of the ball after our first meeting, Fisher thought we did so well the first time that the same "style" would work just fine again - how did that turn out?)Bellichick is the best at it - he knows how to invent & implement unique and complex defensive schemes suited to the team he is facing each week. He was able to keep the effect of the number one pass rush (Giants) in the league under control by installing an offensive game plan which got the ball out very quickly. Dungy did the same thing against us Sunday with his first string offense. He saw what we did against San Diego, how we beat up Rivers, and put in an offensive game plan FOR THAT WEEK that didn't give us enough time to get anything even remotely resembling a pass rush on Peyton. Good coaches adapt. Fisher doesn't. He has stuck with the same philosophy for 13 years, and I guarantee you he'll do the same thing Sunday. Stick with the run, even if they put ten guys in "the box". Most coaches would adapt by saying, "ok they have stacked the box, stuffed my run game, and are knocking my QB down, I'd better starting calling some quick slants & seam routes to exploit the middle behind the safety & linebackers, screens to slow the pass rush, etc. Fisher will just keep trying to run against a brick wall and kick his field goals. Our only hope is that our battered and bruised defensive can save the day once again.

By: floatinglighthouse on 12/31/69 at 6:00

While that is true, and Fisher certainly does stick to an overall style, there's a couple things to keep in mind. First, Fisher's style gives the team an identity - pound the ball and win in the trenches - which is definitely a part of the team's success this year. Just ask the 49ers or the Dolphins or the Jets what it's like to play without a strong identity. Second, to pull off the kind of game-planning that The Hoodie uses, you need experienced veterans with a comanding knowledge of different types of defenses. That takes time. Fisher has a young team. Young teams need identity, not to be taught new game plans every week when the ones before didn't work due to poor execution. Also, it helps to have a fully matured quarterback. VY isn't there yet.

By: junebugfan on 12/31/69 at 6:00

floatinglighthouse,All good points, but how long is a team to be considered "young"? We'd been hearing that excuse for long enough that they haven't even brought it up this year. Good coaches know how to bring young players up to speed in less than four or five years. Case in point, Jones-Drew, Gonzales (rookie tight end Indy), Welker (not nearly as great at Miami as New England), Mario Williams, Derek Anderson, etc.,etc. There are a lot of young players in the league that are adapting much more quickly than our young players. I wasn't implying so much that our D could pull off Hoodie's schemes (although age & experience is no excuse for us on the defensive side, since we at least started the season with our entire secondary except Lowery veteran, our outside linebackers veteran, and our d line mostly veteran), I was just trying to make the point about coaches adjusting, mainly on the offensive side. BTW - the point about a team having an "identity" is becoming a non-factor in todays league. What is Indy's identity? What is New England's? To the contrary, is has been noted for several years that the Pats have no identity, and they have only won three super bowls in a few years time, and are looking like they are poised to do it yet again. (BTW - I am NOT a Pats fan by any means, but I do have a lot of respect for what they have and are continuing to accomplish.)

By: producer2 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Indy and New England pass first run second. Indy is actually more balanced. Tenessee runs first and passes second more likely because we have Justin Gage and Roydell Williams instead of Moss, Welker, Stallworth, Grahamn, Harrison, Clark, Wayne, and Gonzalez. If you want to blame Vince go ahead but his stats are still better than Collins over the past two years. Speaking of two years that is how long we have been told this is a young team, last year and this year AND we were told in 2005 that it would take several years to rebuild since we dumped most of our star players as salray cap casualties. Seems it has only taken two years with a new qb that has won more games than lost during that time. Serious question Junebugfan, were you rooting for O'Donell over McNair as well?

By: TITAN1 on 12/31/69 at 6:00

Well said, producer2, that sums it up! I am more than happy with the progress of this team.

By: nashbeck on 12/31/69 at 6:00

haha again, great post producer2!

By: junebugfan on 12/31/69 at 6:00

producer2,If you had read my post carefully, you would see that I never said anything bad about VY - to the contrary - I would MUCH rather have him than Collins. What I said is that judging by Fisher's comments, he is NOT GOING TO BE AVAILABLE SUNDAY and Collins WILL be our starter. I have NEVER blamed VY, unlike many who post here, I have actually praised his progress in his short amount of time, and have reminded others here how much better he is now than Peyton was in his first couple of years, and of how Brady, Romo, etc. have had the luxury, unlike VY, of standing on the sidelines and learning for a couple of years first. I was only pointing out the under achievement of this team GIVEN the talent they DO have due to a bad coaching philosophy, a stubborn refusal to be adaptable by the head coach, the conservative nature of the head coach, and the predictability & poor situational play calling by the head coach for years on end, regardless of who the O.coordinator "puppet" may be at the time. BTW - what are YOU saying about Gage, (who BTW had 104yds receiving Sunday) & Williams? Are you saying that they are no good, as you IMPLIED that I said about VY & McNair?? Who's to say that they wouldn't be stars in Bellichick or Dungy's system? If they aren't any good, who's responsible for scouting & drafting all of these so called "mediocre" receivers that Fisher has historically blamed for "not getting open"? Doesn't that responsibility fall with Fisher, ultimately? Why is it we never have drafted or signed a "Welker, Gonzales, or Wayne?" Must be just bad luck for 13 years, huh? Face the facts, you just can't go THAT long without finding a great receiver. Either we can't develop them, we can't scout them, or our system won't allow them to shine. BTW - why do think Stallworth turned down an offer to come back and play in Tennessee with a super star QB that is all the rage? Could it be that he thought he would be more productive in Bill's SYSTEM?

By: NFL_Phd on 12/31/69 at 6:00

The Chargers are going to dominate. It's great the Titans made the playoffs but there's no way the Titans will put points on the board in San Diego. San Diego is completely healthy and their offense and defense have been on fire over the last six weeks. Fischer is going to run the ball to shorten the game. That's the only way the Titans can hope to win. Run the clock, play solid defense and hope the defense can get turnovers and give the offense a short field. That's the reality. It was a good run while it lasted.