To say the Tennessee Titans have nothing left to play for is not exactly accurate.
Four days after their losing streak reached six games, any realistic chance a playoff berth was eliminated with Jacksonville’s victory Sunday. That means, at 5-8, they are destined to miss out on the postseason for the second straight year and the fifth time in the last seven.
That doesn’t mean all motivation is gone.
This Sunday, when they host Houston in their final home game, the Titans still can try to avoid a seventh straight defeat, which would be the longest ever under coach Jeff Fisher.
“I think the challenge is how you handle these particular situations and how you pull out of them and how you get them to bounce back,” Fisher said. “There is a lot more time and effort that goes into these times, certainly, than goes into a 10-game winning streak.
“Bottom line is we’re getting beat and we’re not winning games and it’s not acceptable.”
The last time the franchise lost more than six straight was in 1994, which also was the last time it changed coaches.
The losing streak was at six games when coach Jack Pardee was fired in mid-November and Fisher was named interim coach for the remainder of the season. The then-Houston Oilers lost five more under Fisher before they ended the season with a victory.
They never lost more than five in a row again until last season, when they opened 0-6. Now, they’ve done it again.
Fisher and his players contend that there’s also no mystery about how they will approach the remaining three games.
“Where do we go? We have three more games left; we have a good team coming in this week and we have to find a way to win,” linebacker Stephen Tulloch said. “Things are not over yet. We still have three games left and we have to compete. We’re professional athletes and … we have to keep fighting.”
While virtually all of the veterans on the team have missed out on the postseason previously, for many it’s something different to be eliminated at this early stage. A year ago, Tennessee was in the running all the way until a Week 16 defeat at San Diego. In 2006, only a final weekend loss to New England (a game that started late in the afternoon) officially brought an end to that year’s playoff quest.
Thus, motivation will be an issue against the Texans and subsequent trips to Kansas City and Indianapolis. All three of the Titans’ remaining opponents remain in contention for division title and playoff berths.
“What we’re going to do is come back and have fun and work hard and win games,” Fisher said. “That is the most important thing.”
That’s easier said than done, though.
In 2005 the Titans were 4-9 at this point and lost their final three games, each more decisively than the previous one — four points to Seattle, 14 points to Miami and 27 points to Jacksonville.
In 2004, they were 3-7 at the start of December and lost four in a row before a season-ending victory over Detroit.
“Each week is so different and we play football games to win football games,” cornerback Cortland Finnegan said. “We haven’t been doing that lately, but you take from every game something positive that you can learn from and build on. Every guy in here can get better … and if we can continue to do that we can become a better football team.”
Unlike those seasons, however, this one started with such promise.
Following a 37-19 victory over Philadelphia in Week 7, Tennessee was alone in first place in the AFC South at 5-2, the exact opposite of the records through seven games in both 2004 and 2005.
The Titans have not won since.
“I can’t wrap my head around that, no I can’t,” tight end Bo Scaife said. “That hurts my heart for … that to be the reality of our situation. We started 0-6 last year and that’s the only other time I’ve ever been through something like that. I don’t really have too many words to express six [straight] losses.”