None of the Tennessee Titans believe that their effort has been half-hearted either of the last two seasons.
They’re quick to note, though, that they have to play well for more than half a season if they expect to have any realistic chance at a playoff berth.
“The two times [in my four years] we haven’t made the playoffs here, we’ve always gone down to the last couple of weeks before we actually got eliminated,” safety Chris Hope said. “Here again, we’re back in that situation.
“We have to find a way to start a season fast, maintain it and then finish it strong. We are doing either one or the other. We starting slow, finishing strong or we’re starting fast and finding that speed bump and not being able to get over that hump.”
With two games remaining, the Titans have yet to be eliminated from the postseason. Following Sunday’s 31-10 victory over Houston, the situation was clear.
Tennessee needs to win its final two games (Sunday at Kansas City, Jan. 2 at Indianapolis), the Jacksonville Jaguars to lose their final two contests and the Colts to lose Sunday at Oakland.
“We understand what our situation is, who needs to do what,” quarterback Kerry Collins said. “Is it a long shot? Yeah, it is. … [We] want to come out and keep playing. Crazier things have happened.”
It was not that long ago that the Titans were 5-2 and alone in first place in the AFC South. At that point, they had one of the most productive offenses and one of the most opportunistic defenses in the league.
Tennessee scored 30 points or more in four of those first five victories, and its turnover margin was a plus-5 even though it had a minus-6 in a Week 2 loss to Pittsburgh.
In the six games that followed – all defeats – the offense never scored more than 28 points, and the turnover margin was minus-9.
“We’ve been struggling the past weeks and we knew what we had to do,” wide receiver Justin Gage said. “We just had to come out and put four quarters together, and we did that [Sunday].”
That was too late for any hope of a winning season.
At 6-8, the best the Titans can finish in 2010 is 8-8 as they have five other times in the previous 14 years.
That includes last season when – in direct contrast to the current one – they lost their first six games but then rallied for eight victories in the final 10.
Then, the issues were nearly identical. Tennessee scored 30 or more once in the first six games but got there four times in the next seven. It was minus-10 in turnovers before it registered its first victory and plus-6 thereafter.
In 2006, they opened with five straight defeats but made it to 8-8 by the end of that season as well.
Never under coach Jeff Fisher has 8-8 been good enough to make the playoffs, though.
“We just got to think about one game at a time and handle our own situation and try to win out,” running back Chris Johnson said. “If we win out and we so happen to get in the playoffs then that’s a good thing. But I feel like at 6-8 right now, we really can’t be around here talking about playoffs.”
That doesn’t mean they’ve stopped trying.
“There’s no quitters here, no quitters at all,” defensive end Jason Babin said. “We’re going out, winning games, doing whatever it takes.”