Unbeaten Titans pass Monday night test with flying colors

  • By Vic Carucci
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Andy LYons / Getty Images
Tennessee's Chris Hope, flanked by Michael Griffin, returns one of his two interceptions Monday night.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The torch has been passed. Actually, the Titans yanked it right out of the Colts' hands.

Yet that is only one byproduct of the Titans' 31-21 victory over the Colts Monday night.

This game made a larger statement than the Titans taking ownership of the AFC South, which the Colts had won every season since 2003. Given that the Colts stumbled into this game with a banged-up team that hasn't played well all season, the changing of the guard was inevitable.

This was a chance for the Titans to show the nation they deserve every bit of respect that their perfect record had been suggesting before ESPN's cameras showed up at LP Field. And they took full advantage of it.

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"It's not a fluke that we're undefeated," said safety Chris Hope. "It's not a fluke that we've played consistent football all year. I think we have a lot of improving to do, but we are one of the best teams in the league."

Right now, they're the best. Maybe the best by far.

You earn that classification when you play the way the Titans have all season, but especially when you give the sort of performance they gave against the Colts. The Titans showed they have an offense capable of promptly answering an opponent's score with an impressive, 80-yard drive for a touchdown and two-point conversion to tie the game. They showed that their journeyman quarterback, Kerry Collins, can make big throws as well as serve as a "game manager."

They showed they have a defense capable of coming up with massive stops on fourth down and intercepting the great Peyton Manning not once but twice. They showed they have depth to overcome not only the loss of a key defensive player such as injured end Kyle Vanden Bosch, but also his replacement, Dave Ball, who was lost for the game with an injury suffered on the opening kickoff.

In short, they showed everything you would expect a 7-0 team to show.

What's not to like about the Titans? Why were there still lingering doubts when they were 4-0 … 5-0 … 6-0?

"Honestly, I don't know," fullback Ahmard Hall said. "We have a (14-year) vet at quarterback, so I guess (the critics) can say Kerry's too old, he can't do this and that. They talk about our receiving corps, and they came through tonight and made some plays for us (with clutch catches by Justin McCareins, Bo Scaife, Brandon Jones, and Lavelle Hawkins). The defense is great, but they'll find something wrong with that, also.

"I don't know what it is, but all we have to prove, Sunday after Sunday, is that we're here to stay."

It isn't easy to maintain the level at which the Titans are playing, but they're doing it. They meet every new challenge, such as facing an opponent that is more used to the prime-time stage than they are. This was the first Monday Night Football game here in almost four years. It was a perfect setup for a letdown, but the Titans didn't allow it to happen. They don't act as if their surprisingly dominant season is too much for them to handle.

Andy Lyons / Getty Images
While the defense and run game have been getting the attention, 14-year vet Kerry Collins has been steady at quarterback for the Titans.

Now the Titans' focus is on perfection. Not so much with their record. They understand it would be incredibly difficult to match the Patriots' perfect regular season of 2007. But they want to be as perfect as they can in everything else they do. For instance, they continue to be proud of the fact they haven't allowed Collins to be sacked this year. Yet, they were frustrated about giving up their first two touchdown passes of the season Monday night.

The Titans have the NFL's best defensive player and arguably a candidate for league MVP in tackle Albert Haynesworth. At times, he can be downright impossible to block. And with so many talented players around him, it's hard to envision any offense having its way with Tennessee's defense.

Here's something scary for the remaining teams on the Titans' schedule to ponder:

"Honestly, you haven't seen our best ball yet," Haynesworth said. "You haven't seen my best ball yet. You haven't seen the defensive line's best ball yet."

Still, he can't recall being a part of a better team at any level of football. Not in terms of talent or effort.

"I think this team can be great," Haynesworth said.

The key, however, is to not get caught up in believing as much. Coach Jeff Fisher and his assistants have done an impressive job of making certain that the players remain relatively humble.

"That's what allowed us to put this streak together -- the fact that, regardless of what happened the week before, we are able to put it behind us and move on to the next opponent," Collins said.

The other problem with being 7-0 is that every opponent wants to become your first loss. The target on the Titans grew larger Monday night as they had the undivided attention of players and coaches from around the league.

Each of the remaining games on their schedule, beginning with their Week 9 clash with Green Bay, just got a little bit harder.

"We're not a secret anymore," said Hope, who had both of Tennessee's interceptions. "You want the success, you want the recognition and the fame, but a lot of things come with success and fame. Guys are preparing to play us like they're preparing to play for the Patriots and the Colts. We don't have the opportunity to sneak up on any of the teams. They prepare to play us like we're the best, so we get everybody's best shot."

How do they deal with that?

"Don't get too big-headed," Hope said. "Don't get caught up in all the hype about how good we are … because the one game you go out and lay an egg, all the sports analysts and the commentators are talking bad about you."

Public flogging a bad idea

Samurai Mike

Mike Singletary described himself as an "old-school" guy and his first game as 49ers coach certainly proved that. Some may prefer to speak softly and carry a big stick, but Singletary speaks loudly and wields a big sword.

» George: Rookie mistake by old-school coach
» Video: Singletary sounds off
» Seahawks-49ers game highlights

I have always admired Mike Singletary's passion. It went a long way toward helping him to become one of the better middle linebackers in NFL history.

I'm wondering just how well it is going to serve him as a head coach.

Singletary was understandably furious over Vernon Davis' boneheaded unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty and seeming indifference over the damage he had done to the 49ers during their game against Seattle. He might very well have done the right thing by booting him from the field after banishing him to the bench.

But I don't think it was a good idea for Singletary to devote such a large portion of his postgame news conference to verbally bashing Davis and pointing out that he won't tolerate such behavior from any of his players, that he would rather play with 10 players than have one that "is not sold out to be a part of the team."

My advice to Singletary is to deal with such matters in private. By making such a huge deal about it in public, Singletary runs the risk of looking like all that is wrong with the team he inherited is the players. That might be true, but his attitude suggests that his coaching had nothing to do with the outcome. I know Singletary is much more of a team guy than that. If he expects his players to believe that truly is the case, he can't make a habit of calling out players the way he called out Davis. He can be every bit as effective in getting his point across behind closed doors.

Time to worry

Teams residing in the NFL's upper tier that should worry after suffering Week 8 losses:

» Pittsburgh: The Steelers continue to allow far too much pressure on their quarterback. It's hard to expect Ben Roethlisberger to stay healthy enough to answer the bell for all of the remaining games on the schedule.

» Buffalo: The Bills' offensive line has had issues all season, and the Miami game was no exception. The defense also has to figure out how to generate a stronger pass rush. Dink-and-dunk quarterbacks, such as Chad Pennington, are having too easy a time making plays.

Time to relax

Teams residing in the NFL's upper tier that should not worry after suffering Week 8 losses:

» Tampa Bay: The Bucs have no excuse for their lifeless offensive showing against the Cowboys. But they'll get back on track against the Chiefs and should keep the heat on the Panthers.

» Arizona: The Cardinals' road struggles are a serious problem, but they'll still probably win an awful division.

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