Champ Titans still have one goal
Posted: Tuesday, December 23, 2008 6:30 pm
By: By TERESA M. WALKER, AP Sports Writer
NASHVILLE (AP) — All that’s left for the Tennessee Titans in the regular season: trying for the franchise’s best record in 49 years of play.
AFC South title? The Titans wrapped that up, along with a first-round bye, two weeks ago.
Home-field advantage? They took care of that Sunday with a convincing 31-14 win over Pittsburgh.
So what’s left in a game in which nothing of value is at stake for either the AFC’s No. 1 seed or the Indianapolis Colts, who already have clinched the AFC’s No. 5 seed? For Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher, it’s still time to just win for the team with the NFL’s best record at 13-2.
“You play these games to win,” Fisher said Monday. “That’s why you don’t ever go into a game without expecting or doing everything you possibly can to win it. That’s the priority this week.”
This is the third time the franchise has won 13 games in a season, all since the 1999 season and all under Fisher. A win Sunday makes the Titans 14-2 and ensures they finish with the NFL’s best record. The only tweak in the schedule this week? No practice Thursday in a bit of a holiday present to the Titans.
But safety Vincent Fuller said finishing the regular season with a win is very important.
“It just means something to the guys. We’re going out there as a team. We’re trying to beat the Colts. It’s a division rival … Both teams are in the playoffs, but we both want to win. We’re going out there and trying to achieve that goal,” Fuller said.
The Titans already know they will be without Pro Bowl defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth because of a sprained left knee and defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, recovering from minor groin surgery.
They might be without Pro Bowl center Kevin Mawae, who hurt his right elbow in the fourth quarter against Pittsburgh.
Fisher said they were doing some tests and was concerned over whether Mawae would play against the Colts.
Also, defensive end Jevon Kearse sustained a concussion and tackle Tony Brown hurt an ankle.
These teams met in the 2007 regular season finale. Indianapolis had clinched a first-round bye, and Dungy pulled starters like Peyton Manning after a couple series.
The Titans needed the win to earn the AFC’s final wild-card berth and played to win.
Now the Titans have a first-round bye.
Fisher said the break was one reason why beating the Steelers was so important, to help build momentum going into the playoffs.
If Fisher’s preseason approach is any guide, expect his healthy starters to play at least the first half in Indy as a way to help avoid the rust that comes from a long layoff.
That’s what he does in the final exhibition for that very reason even while other coaches tend to pull starters early.
“I can take advantage of the time off and rest (in the bye),” Fisher said. “You also have one more game to play, and most of our players are going to play in it.”
That sounds good to Kerry Collins, who has come out of only one game early — their 47-10 win on Thanksgiving at Detroit. The 14-year veteran, who turns 36 on Dec. 30, said after the Steelers’ win that he feels great and doesn’t need a day off.
“I want to be out there. I want to play. Jeff is going to make that decision. Certainly, I don’t want too much time between now and our first playoff game. Without knowing what Jeff is thinking, like I said, I want to be out there. Obviously, it’s probably not going to be for the whole game. But I definitely feel like I would benefit from being out there,” Collins said.
But expect to see Vince Young, whose appearance in Detroit is his only playing time since spraining his knee in the opener and losing his starting job to Collins. This would be another switch from a year ago when Young started in Indy, aggravated a right quadriceps injury and was relieved by Collins who led them to a 16-10 win.
“I’d say there’s a pretty good chance Vince is going to be in the ballgame,” Fisher said. “How much I don’t know, but I’d think there’s a great chance.”