SAN DIEGO — The Tennessee Titans’ stay in the playoffs was a short one, but they hope it will be a beneficial one.
Sporting one of the NFL’s youngest rosters — and thanks to injuries, an offensive line that had zero postseason starts to its collective credit — the Titans hope to parlay the experience from Sunday’s 17-6 AFC Wild-Card loss to the San Diego Chargers into something they can build on for 2008 and beyond.
“For this team and how young we are, it’s something to build on,” linebacker Keith Bulluck said. “A lot of feelings are hurt in here, but that’s a good thing, because a lot of the feelings that are hurt never experienced playoff football. Now they see what it’s really about to be in this league and get to the postseason. They see what those first 16 games are all about.”
Veteran cornerback Nick Harper, who signed with the Titans as a free agent after winning the Super Bowl last season with the Indianapolis Colts, said the Titans now know how magnified the playoffs are and can use the loss as a building block for seasons to come, similarly to what the Colts did.
“We went through the same thing with the Colts,” Harper said. “I think my first year, we got blown out. It’s a great experience. Guys know what it takes to get here. Now they’ve got to know what it takes to stay in the playoffs.
“You come in and have a loss like this. You’ve got to make plays. You can’t give up plays.”
For those playing in their first postseason game, they know it will take more next time around.
“You’ve got to finish. You can’t just go in with the mindset of making it to the playoffs. You can’t be content with that,” linebacker Stephen Tulloch said. “You’ve got to want to go to the next round. We’re going into the offseason, and it’s going to hurt for a while, but we’ve got to prepare and get ready for the season.”
STATS DON’T LIE: The Titans were solid in the first half, with 11 first downs to just three for San Diego and they converted 7 of 11 third downs. But they had just six points to show for their effort, and by the end of the third quarter would never lead again in the game.
Tennessee also held LaDainian Tomlinson to 42 yards overall and six yards in the first half, but the same woes that have hampered the Titans all season bit them again Sunday.
The Titans had two turnovers, one a Vince Young interception, but the more costly a Chris Brown fumble that was lost at the Chargers’ 9.
It helped add up to an 0-for-3 in the red zone, where the Titans were last in the league in the regular season at 36.4 percent this season.
“You have to take advantage of every opportunity that is presented to you to win it, and that is precisely what we didn’t do today,” Titans coach Jeff Fisher said.
Young said the offense has to be more careful inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.
“Anytime we are in the red zone, we definitely don’t want any turnovers,” Young said. “But it happens, and it is all part of the game.”
EMOTIONAL DAY: LenDale White, whose grandmother died earlier in the week, causing him to miss two days of practice, was emotional and near tears when talking about it in the postgame.
“My grandma would have wanted me to play,” said White, who had 61 of his 69 yards in the first half. “I had to go home and make sure the family was all right, but I had to get back out here, because this is my life. This is what I do. I’ve got to be here for my team. I knew that if my grandma was still here she would want me to be here. I’m glad I showed up and came out here and played how I was supposed to.”
FREE AGENT?: Defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, whose dominant presence this season helped him earn a Pro Bowl berth and led the Titans to the postseason, said he would like to stay in Tennessee, even though he is scheduled to be a free agent.
There is a chance the Titans would put the franchise tag on Haynesworth, which would mean a one-year deal with no signing bonus that would pay him the average of the five highest-paid players at his position in the NFL.
“I’ve been here [in the state of Tennessee] since ’99 starting with the Vols and being drafted by the Titans. I’d love to retire as a Titan,” Haynesworth said.
Besides Haynesworth, other key unrestricted free agents include guard Jacob Bell, receiver Justin Gage, running back Chris Brown and defensive ends Travis LaBoy and Antwan Odom.
GATES HURT: The Chargers lost Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates to a first-half toe injury when he was hit by David Thornton and Tony Brown. Gates was carted off with what was diagnosed as a sprain and did not return to the game.
“I really wasn’t impressed with the shot he took on me,” Gates said. “I thought the corner was going to tag me off, and I was in a hop-up position to get up.”
Gates’ status is unknown for Sunday’s Divisional Playoff game in Indianapolis.