Tennessee Titans  

 

Titans' playoff hopes simple: Beat Colts at home, clinch berth

  • By Associated Press
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans are about to find out if they learned anything a year ago.

They went into their regular-season finale in 2006 needing three other teams to lose, combined with their own win, to earn the AFC's last wild-card berth. The Titans seemed to be counting on their opponent, the New England Patriots, resting key starters for the postseason.

The Patriots didn't, and the Titans lost 40-23 -- blowing the only component over which they had control.

Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images
Titans fans are hoping Vince Young and Co. can take care of business on Sunday and clinch a playoff spot.

» Playoff picture: Where teams stand

Flash forward, and the Titans (9-6) have an even simpler formula for clinching the AFC's final playoff berth as the No. 6 seed: win and in. They also could sneak in with a tie and a Cleveland loss to San Francisco.

But a win means beating the defending Super Bowl champions in Indianapolis, where the Titans haven't won since Nov. 3, 2002. Whether they get any charity from their AFC South rivals remains to be seen.

"It's going to be fun," defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth said. "It'd be like last year. You know, the Patriots played all their starters, then Rodney Harrison went out with an injury. They ended up losing that game in the playoffs. They probably would've went to the Super Bowl."

Harrison strained his right knee when blocked by a Titans receiver in the Patriots' win over Tennessee as the starters played deep into the second half. He missed the playoffs for New England, including the AFC championship game won by Indianapolis.

The question now is whether Colts coach Tony Dungy will take a preseason approach and rest key starters. The Colts (13-2) have a first-round bye as the No. 2 seed. If Peyton Manning plays a quarter or a half at most, that could give the Titans the room needed to pull out the victory.

Defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch cautioned that the Titans should expect the Colts' best.

"I think we make a big mistake by thinking we're going to go in there and beat up on some backups. Indy's the defending world champs. That says a lot about their depth. They've been banged up for a good part of the year, playing with some backup guys," Vanden Bosch said.

The Colts have dominated this AFC South rivalry in recent years, streaking to seven straight wins in sweeping the Titans in 2003, 2004 and 2005. The series has tightened the past two seasons.

Indianapolis still has won two of three games and can sweep Tennessee with a win Sunday. But the games are much tighter. The Titans beat the Colts in Nashville last December 20-17, and their two losses are by a combined three points, including a 14-13 loss in Indy on Oct. 8, 2006.

Quarterback Vince Young said it will be a big challenge.

"What we've got to do is just stay focused and play our game. I really feel like we match up with the guys pretty good. All we've got to do is just not think about what's ahead and just think about that game on Sunday," Young said.

NBC and the league chose to use the flexible scheduling option and moved this game to Sunday night from a 1 p.m. EST kickoff. The Titans split their other two prime-time games, beating New Orleans in September and losing to Denver in November.

One difference in those games? Haynesworth was healthy in the win and sat out the loss. He started Sunday's 10-6 win over the New York Jets, and the Titans came up with six sacks and two interceptions while allowing 68 yards rushing.

Tennessee also showed some of its own depth against the Jets.

Starting cornerback Nick Harper had a groin problem in pregame warmups and was deactivated. His replacement, Reynaldo Hill, intercepted a ball, but left with a concussion. Kelly Herndon, who started for Seattle in the 2006 Super Bowl, replaced Hill.

LenDale White, who topped 1,000 yards rushing with his fifth 100-yard rushing game, said this is a different team from 2006.

"This is a playoff game for us, and that's how we have to play. Every yard we are going to have to fight for. We've got to score early and often. I don't know what they're going to do, but it doesn't matter," White said of the Colts.

"We have to go out there and play as hard as we can and come out with a victory."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

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