Rest, healing top focus for Titans in bye week

The top-seeded Titans get an extra week off before playing in the AFC Divisional Playoff Game Jan. 10.
Jeff Fisher already had the AFC's No. 1 seed locked up, so he rested some key Titans, pulled Kerry Collins after three plays and played every backup in a 23-0 loss to Indianapolis to wrap up the regular season in a brisk 2 hours, 33 minutes. They sure didn't look like they had the NFL's best record at 13-3.

So no worries about losing that momentum? The Titans essentially will go three weeks between meaningful snaps from their 31-14 win over Pittsburgh on Dec. 21 and their divisional playoff game Jan. 10.

"I'm clearly confident that we evidently played our best ball against Pittsburgh, and we've gotten better and better," Fisher said Monday. "This one is an exception. We did, as I said, we did what we felt we needed to do to be ready for the first playoff game. And I felt from an injury standpoint and a rest standpoint, we were successful."

The only key injury from the loss in Indy was to backup linebacker Josh Stamer's groin, and tests were being performed Monday.

The Titans finished the season 3-3, but linebacker Keith Bulluck downplayed questions about whether they peaked too early. He said they played great against Pittsburgh with home-field advantage on the line.

"That's the most that can be at stake in one particular game. I think we did a great job. We had to play this game because it was on our schedule," Bulluck said.

Fisher's priority was avoiding further injuries with Pro Bowl defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth (left knee) and end Kyle Vanden Bosch (groin) missing the last two games each and center Kevin Mawae out with an elbow injury. Some will keep resting. Fisher is expecting his injured players back in practice by next week at the latest but isn't saying which ones or when.

The big advantage for Fisher and his staff is experience.

The Titans had the NFL's best record, also at 13-3, in 2000 only to lose to Baltimore in the divisional playoff game. The next time Fisher got a first-round bye and a home divisional game was the 2003 season, and his Titans beat Pittsburgh 34-31 in overtime to reach the AFC championship game.

Fisher said that experience helps players trust what the coaches ask them to do. The Titans will practice Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and may work in pads once or twice. They also will focus on third-down efficiency, rushing offense and protecting the football.

They won't learn if they are hosting Baltimore, San Diego or Indianapolis until Sunday afternoon.

"They understand we're now in a once in a lifetime opportunity, or at least once in a rare opportunity, to have home-field throughout the playoffs. The priorities should be coming to work, doing the right things at work and not being distracted by anything else," Fisher said.

Toward that end, the Titans stockpiled playoff experience through their free agent signings over the past three years including linebacker David Thornton, cornerback Nick Harper and right guard Jake Scott from Indianapolis, safety Chris Hope from Pittsburgh and Kerry Collins, who led the 2000 New York Giants to the NFC championship.

"That certainly helps as far as younger guys are concerned," Fisher said. "I have really no concern about the maturity level of our younger players. They understand what's important, and they'll responsibly prepare for this."

Punter Craig Hentrich and end Jevon Kearse are the only players around from Tennessee's lone Super Bowl appearance from the 1999 season, but Bulluck and Haynesworth lost a Super Bowl trip to Oakland in January 2003. Bulluck said he, Thornton and Collins talked Monday about this team's opportunity.

"We all know that this is it. I think the message will be definitely conveyed," Bulluck said.

NOTES:The Titans can now talk exclusively with Haynesworth's agent about a new contract with the end of the regular season. "We have clearly expressed a great deal of interest, as he has, in working things out, and we'll move forward. The most important thing now is the playoffs and getting him ready, getting him back on the practice field," Fisher said.

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