Titans, Chargers have bad blood
By: By TERESA M. WALKER, AP Sports Writer
NASHVILLE (AP) — Making the playoffs for the first time since 2003 is special to the Tennessee Titans. An opening-round rematch with the only team to beat them over the final five weeks of the season?
Well, Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck sums it up nicely.
“If people missed the first one that we played, tune in,” he said.
When the Titans lost 23-17 in overtime to the San Diego Chargers on Dec. 9, it was a physical game with players hurt almost on every other play. Chargers’ linebacker Shawne Merriman accused the Titans of a cheap shot that left him with an injured knee.
Even LaDainian Tomlinson was flagged for a personal foul.
Titans’ center Kevin Mawae was fined $5,000 for a hit on Merriman, and right tackle David Stewart was fined $12,500 for hitting Merriman and a late shove on someone else. They weren’t happy that Merriman collided with Vince Young after handing off to a running back.
Chargers’ linebacker Shaun Phillips was fined $7,500 for a horse collar tackle on Titans’ running back Chris Brown.
So no wonder Mawae said Sunday’s AFC wild-card game will be a grudge match between the No. 6 seed and the AFC West champs.
“I know that there’s a lot of things went on a few weeks ago when we played them at our place, a lot of bad blood in this game. So it’ll be interesting to see. We’re going to try to stay focused this week and not get caught up in the locker room trash talk and just focus on ourselves,” Mawae said.
“We go out to San Diego and give them our best shot.”
Based on recent history, this isn’t much of a rivalry.
San Diego (11-5) has won five straight with a record of 9-3-1 at home and leads 22-13 overall. Titans coach Jeff Fisher has yet to beat the Chargers in four games.
But the Titans went into that Dec. 9 game determined to prove they had grown up, that they were no longer the team the Chargers whipped 40-7 on Sept. 17, 2006, in San Diego.
Most recently, The Titans held Philip Rivers to 37 yards passing through three quarters, sacked him five times and led 14-3 with nine minutes left. It fell apart as Rivers tied the score with 13 seconds left to force overtime, and Tomlinson ended it with a 16-yard touchdown run with 7:29 left in overtime.
San Diego coach Norv Turner said the comeback showed the Chargers’ mental toughness.
The Titans prefer to remember something else.
Yes, the defense tired at the end and gave up some big plays. But they look to a key play on fourth-and-5 on the final drive of regulation. Rivers, under pressure from end Travis LaBoy, flung a pass downfield to Chris Chambers who had to dive back for the catch.
Officials ruled it a catch.
Coming inside the final two minutes, it was replayed. CBS, which televised the game, had only one angle available not blocked by players. Chambers said later he made sure to keep his arms under the ball.
The ruling stood. The Chargers forced overtime with the tying TD 11 plays later.
“I don’t think anybody’s happy about the way that game ended,” Pro Bowl defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch said.
“We take a lead, we’d like to be able to finish a game. We give them credit. They made big plays when they had to to beat us. At the same time, there was definitely some unfinished business when they came to Nashville.”
For Bulluck, the recent games are more personal. He was on the teams blown out in San Diego by the Chargers in 2004 and 2006 by a combined score of 78-24 and said there is no love lost between teams who know what to expect in Tomlinson and tight end Antonio Gates.
“We love to get a chance to play against those guys,” Bulluck said.
“It’s great for this team. We’re one of the young teams in the NFL, but we’re definitely the future. For us to get in the playoffs and these young guys to get this taste of the playoffs and see how far we can go.”