Unbeaten Titans staying humble despite record


Justin Gage's two touchdown catches helped the Titans improve to 10-0 and gain a sizable cushion in the race for homefield advantage in the AFC playoffs.

Heck, the Titans could set the alarm for the second weekend of January and still be in great shape for the playoffs.

OK, so maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but this isn't: Four games separate the Titans from their nearest challenger in the AFC South and three games separate them from their nearest challenger in the AFC.

And how about this for sheer conference dominance: If the Titans beat the New York Jets next Sunday in Nashville, they'd have a four-game lead in the so-called battle for homefield advantage through the playoffs with five games left.

"That's awesome," linebacker Keith Bulluck said after the Titans extended their perfect season to 10-0 Sunday with a 24-14 victory over divisional-rival Jacksonville. "That's what we're looking for."

Bulluck's attitude captures the essence of how the Titans are approaching this incredible run. They don't treat it as if it's too large for them to handle and they don't act is if winning week after week has actually become as routine as it seems.

The Titans embrace what they are -- the only unbeaten team in the NFL.

But they're also built in such a way that they can prevent it from taking control of them. This is not a team loaded with superstars. The club's most recognizable face belongs to the coach, Jeff Fisher. After that, it's Vince Young, and he isn't even playing.

The Titans are all about being as unassuming as a group of highly paid professional athletes can be. They pride themselves on outworking everyone else. They take nothing for granted. Their calling card is as fancy as a punch in the mouth.

And it's that mentality that allowed them to rally from a 14-3 halftime deficit against the Jaguars, who hadn't blown a double-digit lead since Jack Del Rio's first game as their coach in 2003. The Titans were two different teams Sunday. In the first half, their offense -- and especially quarterback Kerry Collins -- could get nothing going. In the second half, Collins completed 9 of 13 passes, including three touchdown throws. Tennessee's defense also stepped up to hold the Jags to three first downs through the final two quarters.

It's the same mentality that allowed the Titans to come back from an eight-point deficit in the third quarter to beat another division rival, Indianapolis, on Oct. 27.

It's the same mentality that lets them put aside whatever hardships or distractions they might face and continue rolling. For instance, there was no panic Sunday after they lost starting cornerback Eric King with a broken forearm. Chris Carr simply took his place and made a second-half interception to help seal the victory.

"I think we've got a lot of selfless guys on this team," said Collins, who threw for 230 yards and had a passer rating of 112.3. "It's so important to have that humility and to know that if we don't come to play, things are going to happen like what happened in the first half."

"We're not a soft team, first and foremost," Bulluck said. "Whether we were 5-5 or 6-4, whatever it is, we'd know we'd still have to fight for some kind of position if we want to make the playoffs."

Of course, when you're 10-0, it's a different sort of fight. If the Titans don't end up winning their division and securing homefield advantage, it would be a major disappointment. Standing in their way are six teams and their own complacency.

The Titans saw how the Patriots managed to go 16-0 last season. They certainly would like to repeat the accomplishment, but have so far managed to keep themselves from being consumed with the idea of having a perfect season. They insist it doesn't provide any added burden.

In fact, the Titans still deal with it as if it were something unexpected, as if a win were a bonus.

"It's sort of a surprise for us to be 10-0," cornerback Cortland Finnegan said. "We're all humbled by it. We're just a hard-working team that's just going to take a challenge each and every week. One of the things our coach emphasizes is, 'Be confident, but not complacent.'"

"Jeff does a great job of keeping us focused on the (opponent) we've got this week and not all the other stuff," center Kevin Mawae said. "Nobody's talking about playoffs, nobody's talking about an undefeated season. Nothing like that."

What the Titans do discuss is how much better they can be as a team. They talk about the fact they have yet to play a game that truly reflects the full extent of their capabilities on offense, defense, and special teams.

"The scary thing for us is that we haven't put together four quarters yet, and we're (still) finding ways to win," Mawae said. "Each step along the way, we're maturing as a team, as individuals, and as players. But we're not foolish enough to believe that we're the best team in the league.

"We know our record shows it, but other than that, we've got a lot of work to do." Presumably, that means there's no time for a nap.



TEAMS SINCE 1970 TO START SEASON 10-0
(Year/Team/First loss/Final record)
1972/Dolphins/Undefeated/14-0
1975/Vikings/Week 11/12-2
1984/Dolphins Week 12/14-2
1985/Bears/Week 13/15-1
1990/Giants/Week 11/13-3
1991/Redskins/Week 12/14-2
1998/Broncos/Week 14/14-2
2005/Colts/Week 14/14-2
2007/Patriots/Undefeated/16-0
2008 Titans.......

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