Haynesworth, Vanden Bosch out until playoffs

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Good thing the Tennessee Titans already clinched the AFC South title, a first-round bye and a home playoff game. Winning the AFC's No. 1 seed for the postseason will be a much bigger challenge without the right side of their defensive line.

Coach Jeff Fisher announced Monday that defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch will miss the final two games of the regular season with injuries.

"I look at this as good news," Fisher said. "We'll have them both back, expected to have them both back for the playoffs. ... There's no doubt in our mind that he'll be back."

Haynesworth sprained his left medial collateral ligament with 92 seconds left in Sunday's 13-12 loss to the Houston Texans when players rolled up the back of his left leg, pushing his knee inward as he fell to the ground. He was able to walk off the field with assistance and was seen walking in the locker room after the game but had to be carted to the bus for the return trip home.

The seven-year veteran is having the best season of his career with 8.5 sacks.

Vanden Bosch did not play against Houston. Fisher said Vanden Bosch, who had 12.5 sacks last season, injured his groin on Dec. 7 against Cleveland. The Titans sent him to a specialist who recommended what Fisher termed "minor" surgery to repair a groin muscle that the coach said was a different injury from what kept Vanden Bosch out of three other games.

Fisher would not go into specifics when asked if the Titans would shut down Haynesworth or Vanden Bosch over the next two weeks.

"We're going to get them ready to play in the playoffs," Fisher said.

Haynesworth and Vanden Bosch are a big reason why the Titans have been able to pressure and hit quarterbacks using mostly a four-man rush, occasionally flipping spots to shake up the look for offensive linemen.

The Titans will also be without reserve tackle Kevin Vickerson for the rest of the regular season because of a four-game suspension for violating the league's anabolic steroids and related substances ban. Fisher said they may add another player, but he is confident in Dave Ball, who can move inside and has a career-high 4.5 sacks, and rookie Jason Jones.

"They were in the Pro Bowl last year. They're good players," Fisher said of Haynesworth and Vanden Bosch. "But we have played some games where we've been without them, and we've been OK."

The Titans have bigger worries than missing half their defensive line with Pittsburgh (11-3) coming to town Sunday with home-field advantage throughout the postseason going to the winner.

They have lost two of their last four after becoming only the 11th team since 1970 to start 10-0. The defense held an opponent under 17 points for the 10th time this season, but the offense was held to a mere 100 yards rushing on a day Kerry Collins struggled and completed less than half his passes.

Fisher faced even more questions about not letting Rob Bironas, who had hit past 12 field goals in Reliant Stadium, attempt a 50-yarder instead of letting Collins throw on fourth-and-3 with two minutes left in Houston. Collins overthrew Justin McCareins.

The coach defended the decision, saying the Titans needed to be at the Houston 28 because of 26 mph winds. The Titans were at the Houston 32 even though the kicker ran out on the field, ready to try.

"I'm not going to put Rob in that position to fail," Fisher said.

Tennessee has turned the ball over five times in two games. A team that set season highs for penalties and yards a week ago had Cortland Finnegan flagged four plays apart in the fourth quarter for roughing the passer by hitting Matt Schaub in the helmet, then spearing Owen Daniels. The penalties helped set up the Texans' winning field goal.

Cornerback Nick Harper, who won the 2007 Super Bowl with Indianapolis, said the Titans aren't ready for the playoffs based on how they've played the past two weeks and need to look closely at themselves.

"We definitely need to step it up and everybody needs to have a gut check and evaluate themselves and just see what changes they need to make," Harper said.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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