This time, Titans can't overcome spotty play

November, 23, 2008
11/23/08
8:34
PM ET
 
 Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
 Leon Washington scored on runs of 61 and 4 yards in the fourth quarter.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- If the New York Jets do their part, the Jets and Titans will square off again in the postseason, according to Keith Bulluck.

"That's up to them," Tennessee's veteran linebacker said. "I know where we're going to be."

Up until Sunday, the Titans had been able to survive their share of bad stretches, dropped passes and failed third downs on both offense and defense. Against the Jets, all the things they'd been negotiating around piled up and became insurmountable in a 34-13 loss.

Give a Brett Favre-led offense 40:30 in time of possession ("Yikes," Bulluck said when he learned that number), allow a season-worst 192 yards rushing and score all of three points when the outcome is in doubt and odds are not in your favor.

"They executed their game plan a lot better than we did ours," nickel back Vincent Fuller said. "...The feeling sucks and I think us winning shouldn't be taken for granted, it's bad. It wasn't a goal to be undefeated. Definitely we appreciate being able to win the first 10 games of the season."

Fifteen minutes after swallowing their first loss of the season, the Titans had little choice but to concede the obvious -- that they weren't close to being the best team over 60 minutes.

"They put up 30 and we're used to giving up 12," Bulluck said. "When a team puts that many points up, they're doing something right. You can't say anything bad about what they did. The Jets are a good football team."

"If you watched that whole game," cornerback Chris Carr said, "you know the team that deserved to win was the Jets because they outplayed us all day."

The Titans have been a team greater than the sum of its parts all season, an equation that makes them somewhat anonymous and somewhat a more likeable group than your average NFL bunch.

But the more they won when they played far less than perfect and the more they talked about how they'd not yet played a complete game, the more it was also clear that they had yet to spit out a dud, a possibility just as likely.

In Week 11, the Titans overcame a bad first half in Jacksonville. Down 10-3 at intermission against the Jets, Tennessee felt like it could adjust and fight back. The Jets proved far superior to the Jaguars, though, and were not about to squander things in a similar fashion.

 
 NFL.com Video
 Watch highlights from the Jets' 34-13 win over the Titans.

"We lost one game, the world's not going to end," running back LenDale White said. "That's how I look at it. We can all be mad and have our faces down and pout about it and not live your life now. But it's one game. You lose one game, that does not mean you can't make it to the playoffs, that doesn't mean you're going to go on a six-game losing streak, that does not mean anything like that. It's one game. You regroup, you come back next week, you've got a short week this week, and you just get ready to fight."

Bulluck expects his team to hold the result in context.

He's pretty sure that won't be the case back in New York.

"They should be happy because I know the Jets fans are tough on them up there; I'm from New York," Bulluck said. "The Jets went out and executed and now they have the best team in football in New York, actually both of the best teams in football in New York. Now everybody can stop worrying about us."

Someone asked if he was being sarcastic.

"Very," he said. "Facetious."

Then later he reset the Titans' story line: "The Jets, they came out and played real tough today because there was something on the line," he said. "So now we've got a little more on the line, the stakes are higher, turn up the heat a little bit. I don't think they're gaining. Yeah, in the standings [they are].

"But football is a mentality and I think a game like this toughens an already tough team. We'll see. Right now it's a lot of lip service because it's right after the game. But the great thing about it is we get to play on Thursday and see what's up."

Here are eight other things I saw, heard, learned or asked about after this game:

1. Attention Titans fans: The two late pass-interference calls against Carr were not crimes against humanity by the officials. The first one was absolutely a penalty -- Carr's arm bar slowed Laveranues Coles down well before the ball arrived.

The game was already out of reach. I guess the crowd at LP Field had to find somewhere to deflect blame for a bad afternoon, and after such a great 10-game ride couldn't actually point to a poor performance by the home team.

Some reaction from the Titans' locker room:

"I'm not going to comment on any of that," Carr said. "We lost the game before that."

"When you play defense, nobody thinks you pass interfered," Fuller said. "They definitely could have been called either way. Laveranues did a great job drawing them, the referees saw it their way and we have to accept it.

"Crazier things have happened [than a comeback at that point]. You would have liked to have seen those calls not be called and see how the game would have shaken out then... Those calls, while they were meaningful, I don't want to say they were pivotal calls."

"Refs get paid just like us, they should get fined just like us, too." Bulluck said. "Why not? We get fined for questionable things all the time. It's one of those things. And I've been in this league for nine years, I'm not worried about no fines."

 
 Joe Robbins/Getty Images
 Brett Favre threw for 224 yards and two touchdowns in Sunday's win over the Titans.

2. Down by two touchdowns with 7 minutes left in the game, Titans defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson stuffed Jets running back Thomas Jones for no gain. Then Vickerson, who'd done what he's supposed to do, celebrated with a dance in the backfield as if he'd sacked the quarterback, forced a fumble and rumbled to a touchdown.

All in the name of firing his team up, he told me.

3. "Anything that can get the guys around you rallied up," said Vickerson, who recovered a Favre fumble forced by Albert Haynesworth early in the game. "It wasn't about no dance or celebrating. It was just trying to make a play and I went out and did it. I was just trying to get the guys behind me on the same page. At a crucial point like that I was trying to get us going, man."

Maybe that qualifies as ambition, but I don't know that getting the team going falls in the job description of the team's fourth interior lineman.

If you're keeping count, that's two nonsensical celebrations by the Titans in two weeks. (In Week 11 Brandon Jones whooped it up after a touchdown catch by pretending he was getting arrested).

Fisher might want to make it a bullet point in an upcoming PowerPoint presentation that those two didn't look too smart and the next potential celebrator might consider context before following through. Heading back to the huddle or the sideline can be the far better choice.

4. The Titans suited up two new defensive backs: safety Tuff Harris, who was elevated from the practice squad, and veteran corner Tyrone Poole.

Harris made a thunderous tackle of Leon Washington on the Jets' first punt return.

Poole played one snap in the dime early in the third quarter.

5. Feisty Titans corner Cortland Finnegan got his fifth interception of the season, picking off Favre in the second quarter.

Earlier he had an opportunity to line up across from a receiver he'd not watched any film on: Favre.

With Brad Smith at quarterback in a Wildcat formation, Favre lined up wide left. He put his hand down to get in a three-point stance for the snap, and Finnegan smashed into him at the snap.

"This is a ruthless game out here, no free passes... I wanted to take him out," Finnegan said with a grin. "He's somebody I grew up watching and loving. If I was a quarterback, I'd definitely be Brett Favre. He said that I didn't hit very hard. I laughed at him. Class act kind of guy, Hall of Famer, I'm definitely still a fan."

6. It's rare to see Fisher throw a hopeful challenge flag.

He did so in the third quarter after Chris Johnson's fumble set the Jets up at the Titans' 35-yard-line, when replays left little question.

After looking at it, referee Carl Cheffers reported "the ball is clearly out" before Johnson was down.

7. Titans QB Kerry Collins suffered from the drops and still managed to throw for more yards than Favre, 243-224.

See how people can get too caught up in passing yardage?

8. With just four days to get ready for Thanksgiving in Detroit, Titans players won't get the normal game review and grade, Fisher said.

But many said they would do their best to get a look at it on their own, then move on with plenty of optimism.

"We're still writing our ticket to the playoffs," tight end Bo Scaife said.

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