NASHVILLE, Tenn. --Tennessee's rematch with Indianapolis has playoff implications, just not the ones its players and coaches envisioned.
The Titans (6-9) visit the Colts (9-6) at 3:15 p.m. Sunday in the regular-season finale for both teams. If Tennessee defeats Indianapolis and Jacksonville wins at Houston (5-10), the Jaguars (8-7) would win the AFC South. The Colts can clinch the division with a win or tie against the Titans or a loss by the Jaguars. No team but the Titans and Colts has won the division since its creation in 2002.
Tennessee's slim playoff hopes ended last Sunday with a 34-14 loss at Kansas City, but Titans coach Jeff Fisher said Monday that the coaches and players will fully prepare for Indianapolis.
"I have no question about their ability to come back Wednesday, work, prepare and play hard against the Colts," Fisher said. "We come to work to win every day. It hasn't worked out. We're not happy about it. We feel the same disappointment that our fans feel, but it certainly doesn't mean there's any less effort going on here on a week-to-week basis."
The Titans had every reason to believe it would have a strong season in 2010. After an 0-6 start in 2009, they won eight of their last 10 games to finish 8-8. Seven games into this season, Tennessee led the AFC South with a 5-2 record but began a six-game losing streak at San Diego on Oct. 31—one week after a dramatic comeback win against Philadelphia. It was the second straight year for the Titans to endure six consecutive losses, and the skid will keep Tennessee from making the playoffs in back-to-back seasons.
"I would say it was a disappointment," Fisher said. "We had high hopes coming off the turnaround last year. We thought the Draft went well. We had a great deal of enthusiasm and excitement about our Draft class, as far as them contributing. We got off to a good start. In Week 8, things fell apart, and we've been trying week after week after week to put it back into place and it hasn't gone that way for us."
Multiple injuries at quarterback led to instability on offense, and injuries at defensive positions limited the Titans' depth during the losing streak. Vince Young (ankle, knee sprains) was injured and replaced by Kerry Collins on Oct. 18 at Jacksonville. Collins suffered an injury to the middle finger of his throwing hand in that game, but played through it and led the Titans to a win against the Eagles.
Young aggravated the ankle injury at San Diego and was replaced by Collins, who started at Miami Nov. 14 but left with a calf injury and was replaced by Young in the second half. Young started against Washington Nov. 21 but suffered a season-ending thumb injury and was replaced by rookie Rusty Smith, who started the following week at Houston. Collins returned against Jacksonville Dec. 5, but Tennessee's offense didn't regain rhythm until the second half against Indianapolis on Dec. 9.
"When you have instability at the quarterback position, which we did for a number of weeks, you in essence become one dimensional," Fisher said. "You're a running team. Well, teams take your run away. Therefore, you don't get the production you like. You don't have the time of possession."
The Titans scored four touchdowns in their first matchup with the Colts but lost and scored four touchdowns against Houston on Dec. 19 in a win.
Sunday's loss had similarities to its other defeats this season. Kansas City possessed the ball nearly twice as long as Tennessee and scored the first 24 points of the game. The Titans trailed Houston 14-0 (Nov. 28), Jacksonville 17-0 (Dec. 5), Indianapolis 21-7 (Dec. 9) and Kansas City 31-7 at halftime of those games.
Tennessee's large deficit forced it to try more pass attempts than its preferred balance between run and pass plays. Chris Johnson rushed the ball five times for 16 yards in the second half and finished with 58 yards on 14 carries.
Just three of the Titans' 15 possessions lasted more than five plays, and Tennessee kept the ball for just 20 minutes, 56 seconds. Two of Tennessee's three third-down conversions occurred on its opening drive that ended without points after an incomplete pass from Collins to Justin Gage on fourth and six from the Kansas City 38-yard-line.
The Titans were 3-for-12 on third-down conversions. Tennessee faced third and 11 or longer six times and converted once—a 22-yard pass from Collins to Jared Cook on third and 15, which led to a 22-yard touchdown from Collins to Cook one play later.
Kansas City, however, dealt Tennessee a backbreaker in the second quarter when it turned a third and 19 from its own 25 into a 75-yard touchdown pass from Matt Cassel to Dwayne Bowe for a 24-0 lead with 7:19 left in the first half.
Fisher said the play "summed up" the Titans performance against Kansas City, which was the result of proper preparation not transferring to the game. He said the Titans will work hard to prepare for the Colts this week.
"We enjoy preparing for games and competing," Fisher said. "We're going to make the most of this coming week and do the same thing. It's hard to come in here on Mondays and look at the tape, look at the opportunities you had. Obviously, you address it with your team. You make the corrections and you move on."