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Sunday, December 30, 2007
Updated: December 31, 4:58 PM ET
Titans aren't pretty, but they're playoff-bound

By Jeffri Chadiha
ESPN.com

Kerry Collins
Kerry Collins came off the bench for an injured Vince Young to direct the Titans into the postseason.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The way the Tennessee Titans entered the postseason Sunday night might not have been inspired. But it certainly was appropriate.

They had a few impressive moments during their 16-10 win over the Indianapolis Colts. They also had plenty of situations in which they looked downright awful. But somehow, they managed to make just enough clutch plays to succeed.

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NY Giants at Tampa Bay
Jacksonville at Pittsburgh
Washington at Seattle
Tennessee at San Diego

In short, they provided a perfect snapshot of how their entire season has played out.

Whatever you think about the Titans, you need to know this much: They are an unquestionably resilient bunch. No team in this postseason has looked more ordinary over the past month, but here they are, still standing and eagerly awaiting a second shot at the San Diego Chargers, the team that beat them a few weeks back in a physical contest that left both squads bitter.

How the Titans got here doesn't matter now. As backup quarterback Kerry Collins said, "We may win ugly, but we have kept winning."

That basically sums up the Titans. They know they are an unpredictable bunch, and they realize that uncertainty is exactly what should worry their opponents.

After all, the Titans, having experienced so many ups and downs, have learned some valuable lessons about their character and mental toughness. When you're talking about thriving in a playoff environment, those are the kinds of qualities teams need to know most.

Consider how Sunday's game played out. In theory, the Titans should have been done the minute quarterback Vince Young re-aggravated a right quadriceps injury early in the third quarter. It wasn't apparent how Young hurt himself, but as three team trainers hovered over him, the collective expressions on his teammates' faces indicated their night couldn't get much worse.

As it turned out, the injury was a blessing. Although Young played solidly (14-of-18, 157 yards), Collins proved to be more effective (10-of-13, 106 yards). His downfield passing was sharper, and the offense seemed to click more efficiently under his direction.

Of course, it helped that the Colts had removed nearly all of their defensive starters by that time, but the primary point here shouldn't be lost. The Titans could have folded when their leader -- who could have returned if necessary, according to Titans coach Jeff Fisher -- went down. Instead, they grabbed hold of a game that should have been theirs from the start.

Yes, Indianapolis didn't have much interest in this contest. Aside from celebrating their final game inside the soon-to-be-defunct RCA Dome and padding the stats of Pro Bowl wide receiver Reggie Wayne (12 receptions for 87 yards), the Colts were in cruise control from the opening kickoff.

Had the Titans been more aggressive, they could have blown out Indianapolis early. Instead, they did more than enough to give away -- well, nearly give away -- a great opportunity.

It wasn't hard to determine the most frustrating sequence for Tennessee. That came early in the third quarter, when running back LenDale White fumbled deep in his own territory. The Titans then followed with two penalties, including a personal foul by rookie safety Michael Griffin.

By the time Colts backup quarterback Jim Sorgi hit Craphonso Thorpe for a 3-yard touchdown pass to give Indianapolis a 10-7 lead, it was apparent Indianapolis had a shot at ruining the Titans' hopes. Once Young left the game on the next series, it started to look like a solid bet.

But the one thing the Titans have proven this year is that they give their best effort when faced with these situations. With Collins managing the game, Tennessee moved the ball well enough to pick up three Rob Bironas field goals that proved to be the deciding points.

Afterward, Fisher acknowledged that his team had executed the plan of sticking with the Colts until Indianapolis yanked its starters, then making a push to win the game.

Was it ugly? Sure. But this is simply the Titans' way. After all, this is the same team that was 6-2 at midseason before it suffered a three-game losing streak. It's the same squad that blew a 14-point lead to lose in overtime to San Diego on Dec. 9.

As Fisher said, "We've had some tough weeks, but we've always been able to bounce back."

That ultimately is what makes the Titans a scary postseason team, even if they don't have the talent or the experience of their AFC playoff peers. Only a handful of veterans -- players like Collins, cornerback Nick Harper and linebackers Keith Bulluck and David Thornton -- have competed in the postseason.

The Titans aren't a team that makes annual playoff appearances -- at least not yet. That's why center Kevin Mawae, a 14-year veteran who's been nursing a calf injury, called a players-only meeting Saturday to reiterate the magnitude of the moment.

Teammates said Mawae was extremely emotional during his speech, and Collins understood why.

"I remember going to the NFC Championship Game in my second year [in Carolina], and I thought we'd be going every year," Collins said. "That didn't happen, which is why you have to take advantage of these opportunities."

That was exactly the message the younger Titans echoed as they prepared to leave the RCA Dome.

In fact, some players pointed out that they are looking forward to seeing the Chargers again because, as fullback Ahmard Hall said, "It's obvious that both teams don't like one another."

But to be honest, the Titans would be excited no matter what team they were facing. A month ago, they looked like just another young team that needed another season to learn how to win.

Now, they have the strut of a confident team eager to reach its potential, one that clearly has proven it belongs with the other 11 teams still playing this season.

Jeffri Chadiha is a senior writer for ESPN.com.