The Titans are 10-0, and ESPN finally started putting a Pursuit of Perfection spot on their ticker. I immediately dismiss any comparisons to the Patriots. The Pats had won three Super Bowls and lost in the AFC Championship game the season before going almost undefeated. They went from a blah franchise to a national one and were already on people’s minds before deciding not to lose. Plus, the Pats were crushing opponents, at least in the first half of the season. In their first eight games, the closest finish was a 17-point win against the Browns. They played things closer to the vest in the second half, winning half of those games by less than a touchdown. It was more interesting.
While the Titans still have a tendency to play games close, they haven’t been in as many nail biters as in the last couple of years. Four of their ten games have been decided by a touchdown or less. One went to overtime, something the Patriots avoided last year.
The last four games have been particularly tough. The Colts led 14-6 in the second half before the Titans scored 25 straight points. The Packers kicked a lot of short field goals. The Bears were on the Titans’ side of the field on the final drive. The Jaguars led 14-3 at the half. In each game, the Titans made a big play. What distinguishes this team from last year’s squad is that both sides of the ball are making the plays. Kerry Collins’ numbers at a glance last week weren’t stellar, but it was the individual deep throws to Justin Gage that stood out.
There’s a point where you have to give in. When Missouri was ranked number one heading into the Big 12 Championship game, I didn’t enjoy it for a second. I knew that Missouri would be Missouri. They lost to a very good Oklahoma team. There was no shame in that. The difference in this Titans team is that they size up each opponent and find a way to win.
What distinguishes a good season from an all-timer is those key plays in each game. It’s David Ball overpowering an offensive tackle to get to David Garrard. It’s Collins audibling to a go route when the coverage changed, and Gage deciding not to drop the ball for once. It’s LenDale White refusing to be tackled inside the five yard line.
I’m fired up about this team, but I’m a little nervous about going all in. If the Titans win today, it’s pretty much Super Bowl or bust. There’s a lot of pressure attached to that, as all Patriots fans know. There are too many weeks left, and too many bad things can happen. How does the team react if Collins is hurt and Vince Young has to play? Will the injuries on defense cost the team? Last week against the Jags doesn’t count, they don’t really have an offensive line.
There aren’t any more trials by fire that the team hasn’t faced. Game-winning touchdown drive on the road? Check. Overcoming a double-digit deficit on the road to win? Check. Having a team shut down your running game and being forced to pass? Check. Defeating your nemesis to reclaim the division? Check.
I don’t think the Football Gods have enough of a sense of humor to match up an undefeated Titan team with the Giants. I would be fine with the Titans losing to the Browns, say, and going with that. The key is to remember that the top two seeds in the playoffs more likely than not get to the Super Bowl. We have seen two teams win three road playoff games in the past three years, and the Colts had to win one road playoff game on their journey. How about we go back to the 80s when the top seeds cruised to the big game?
The Titans have played three playoff home games in their Nashville history. I missed the Music City Miracle because my cousin was getting married. The Ravens game in 2000 will haunt me forever. The crazy Steelers overtime game nearly put a lot of us in the hospital. Am I sure that I know what I’m getting into by asking for more this January?
At some point I will go all in, but for today, let me enjoy watching the Jets get knocked down a peg or two. That’s all I’m looking for.