Aesthetically, it was about as pretty as the plaid sweater your great aunt got you for Christmas when you were 13.
But Tennessee’s 10-6 victory over the New York Jets Sunday, combined with the Cincinnati Bengals’ 19-14 gift upset of the Cleveland Browns, has the Titans with visions of playoffs in their heads for the first time since the 2003 season.
To do so, the Titans have to travel to Indianapolis and defeat the defending Super Bowl champion Colts in what is now a primetime game Sunday night at 7:15 p.m.
For the Titans, it was all they could ask for, having entered the day needing to win out and needing the Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers or Jacksonville Jaguars to provide some help by faltering down the stretch.
Cleveland’s stumble, combined with Tennessee’s victory has the Titans holding the inside track to the final AFC wild-card spot with the simplest of scenarios now looming - Win and in, or lose and go home.
“When you control your own destiny, there’s nothing better than that, because now, it’s up to the 53 guys in this locker room and the coaches to go out there and handle our business,” nickelback Vincent Fuller said. “We don’t have to rely on anybody else. We definitely appreciate what the Bengals did, so now it’s on us.”
In getting themselves back into the driver’s seat for the final playoff position, the Titans have actually been in must-win mode for the past three games, since losing a 14-point lead to the San Diego Chargers three weeks ago.
“Honestly, the playoffs have been started for us, because one loss, and we’re out,” defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth said. “We’ve been playing like it’s the playoffs for the last few weeks, since San Diego.”
In doing so, the Titans reverted back to the defense-first style of play they have relied on for much of their success.
Tennessee’s offense did just enough, getting Chris Brown’s 4-yard second-quarter touchdown run to take a 7-0 lead, then holding on for dear life, getting only Rob Bironas’ 46-yard field goal in the second half.
In between, the defense was key, sacking Chad Pennington six times, and even catching a well-timed break or two when it was needed most.
One of those breaks came after the Jets had closed the gap to 7-6 on the Pennington to Jerricho Cotchery touchdown with 10:59 to play in the second quarter. On the extra point, Titans defensive end Antwan Odom came free and blocked Mike Nugent’s point after to keep Tennessee in front by a single point.
“I shot the gap, and I came free. It surprised me,” said Odom, who split 2006 first-round picks Nick Mangold and D’Brickashaw Ferguson on the play. “I put my hands up, and it was right there, so I blocked it.”
The next play that saved the Titans was even more bizarre, as the Jets took a 9-7 lead when Nugent made a 36-yard field goal, only to have Tony Brown penalized for a “leverage” play. New York elected to pull the points off the board and had first-and-goal at the 9.
But the chance for more points went by the boards when Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck dropped back into coverage and intercepted a pass in the end zone, snuffing out the threat and preserving the lead.
“It changed kind of the course of the game, because toward the end, instead of going for a touchdown, they could have settled for three points,” Bulluck said. “In the second quarter, you don’t really think about that, but plays like that always come back.”
It came into play when the Jets reaching the Titans 45 with two minutes to go, and needing a touchdown to take the lead, instead of just a field goal.
The Titans' defense came through on fourth-and-4 as Tony Brown sacked Pennington to extinguish the Jets and fuel the Titans' playoff flame for another week.
The Titans now head to Indy with their fate in their hands and one step left to take to reach the playoffs.
“Two weeks ago, we said we had to win out,” Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. “We had to win three. We have won the first and second. We still have a big challenge on our hands to say the least.”