At 9-0, Titans in crosshairs

Tuesday, November 11, 2008 at 2:19am
Linebacker Keith Bulluck says the Titans are not trying to go undefeated, but get home-field advantage for the playoffs. Mike Strasinger for The City Paper

After Sunday’s 21-14 victory over the Chicago Bears, quarterback Kerry Collins explained the gash across his nose as a recoil of a muzzleloader from shooting a six-point buck on the Friday before the game.

And like that deer that Collins felled on Friday, the 9-0 Tennessee Titans have clearly become the hunted around the NFL.

Linebacker Keith Bulluck said as much on Monday as the Titans prepare to face AFC South rival Jacksonville for the second time this season. The 4-5 Jaguars are clinging to playoff life, two games out of the wild-card chase with the Titans coming to town Sunday.

“I was kind of hoping that we were getting every team’s best shot before, but it’s getting more fun each week, because other teams are coming out gunning for us,” Bulluck said. “Even yesterday, that first couple of series against the Bears, they came out real tough like they were kind of going to push us around. That’s how their offense was acting.

“Then, everything settled down and the story was told. That definitely gives other teams extra motivation to try and beat us. But little do they know, we’re not trying to go undefeated. We’re trying to win as many games and get home-field advantage for the playoffs.”

The Titans have a distinct edge in that regard as well, leading four AFC teams by three games in the race to be the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, something they have not had since 2000. Bulluck knows the key to accomplishing that goal.

“I just started to pay attention to that yesterday on the plane, watching that Pittsburgh-Indy game,” Bulluck said. “It’s all about what we do first. The years before we were more in a position to worry about if this team does this, whereas now, we just have to keep playing consistently good football and everything else will take care of itself.”

That is coach Jeff Fisher’s continued message each week to his players, as they face a banged-up Jaguars team that has been hit hard with injuries, especially on the offensive line.

“Look what Jacksonville did to Indy [in week 3] when they went to Indy,” Fisher said. “They answered the call there and found a way to win that thing. It was at the end but they found a way to win it despite the fact that they were very banged up. This is a tough place to play for us and we’ll get their best shot.”

PLAYING WITH PAIN: Bulluck played through his painful rib cartilage tear and had 12 total tackles against the Bears.

“It’s one of those things that can’t get any worse,” he said of the injury. “I do my healing through the week, and Sunday I went out there and played.”

Bulluck said he is about 90 percent currently and that the injury would probably take three to six weeks to heal.

Bulluck, who has made 106 straight starts, takes his cue from the likes of Steve McNair and Eddie George as far as playing through pain and that way of playing is becoming more rare.

“For the most part, if I’m out there, there’s only one way I can play. I’m not going to go out there where I feel the opposing team can take advantage of me or my team with me playing with a slight injury,” Bulluck said. “I do think there are a lot of soft people in this game today. Some of the injuries I hear that go around the league and why people aren’t playing, some people, it really doesn’t matter that much to them. I think even if we were 0-8, I probably would have still went out there, because that is my opportunity to play football, and you don’t get too many.”

INJURIES: Fisher said cornerback Nick Harper would have some tests done on his sore ankle. Harper left the game and was replaced by Eric King.

Also, fullback Ahmard Hall and receiver Justin McCareins both left the game with concussions. Kyle Vanden Bosch will continue to be monitored as he battles a groin strain.

“We’re just going to do some tests, his ankle is sore,” Fisher said. “We had a couple guys, Nick’s got an ankle and will be day-to-day. We had a couple concussions, Ahmard and Justin McCareins, so we’ll kind of monitor them over the next few days and see how they are. We’ll take the day-to-day approach again with Kyle.”

GETTING THERE: Quarterback Kerry Collins has seen plenty in his 14-year NFL career, but never has he been part of such a fast start, even when he quarterbacked the 2000 New York Giants to the Super Bowl and the Carolina Panthers to the 1996 NFC Championship Game.

Asked if this group of Titans was the best team he had ever been a part of Collins replied, “We’re getting there. So much of what makes a good season is what happens in the second half of the year. So far, it’s been good and we’ve done what we needed to do. But there’s a heck of a lot of football left to play.”

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