Once upon a time in the NFL, the Tennessee Titans were a playoff and Super Bowl contender every year.
But the days of 1999 through 2003 seem like long ago not only to some fans, but also veteran players who were a part of those teams.
The Titans spent four seasons on the outside of the playoffs looking in after starting over because of salary cap problems that at one time left Tennessee less than $1,000 under the cap before the blowup.
That drought ended Sunday night when the Titans defeated the Indianapolis Colts 16-10 to claim the final spot in the AFC playoff field.
It was especially gratifying for the few Titans players who were holdovers from the last playoff runs.
“I think it’s great. I remember a year or two years ago, we were the youngest team in the NFL. Now, we’re a team that’s in the playoffs,” said linebacker Keith Bulluck, one of just four Titans remaining from Tennessee’s previous playoff teams. “Two or three years ago, we had four wins and now we have 10. That’s great and to get in the playoffs and for these guys to get that feeling experience of what it’s going to be like in a big game, it’s something they’ll never forget. We won’t forget it as a team for the rest of this year and next year.”
Bulluck, along with defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, guard Benji Olson, running back Chris Brown and punter Craig Hentrich, are the only ones to see the entire rebuilding cycle through.
“It feels great,” said Olson, who has hinted that 2007 could be his final NFL season. “Hopefully, we’re starting something that’s going to carry on for the next few years and down the road. Hopefully, we can keep the momentum going.
“It’s a good feeling to be able to stick those rough years out and to be here still and see the team to rise up to the top again and be competitive with the best teams in the league.”
Titans coach Jeff Fisher credited the players, but also complimented others from owner Bud Adams on down who had made significant contributions toward getting the Tennessee ship back on a playoff course.
“I think a lot of people are to be credited to that, starting with Mr. Adams and his understanding of what we had to do,” Fisher said. “[Former general manager] Floyd [Reese], with the plan that we had in place knowing that in 2005 we were going to have to pretty much start over and draft, and that it may take some time.
“The plan was that in this day and age, it doesn’t take that long. We knocked on the door last year, and we made it (this year). A lot of people are to be complimented for that, particularly the players.”
Simply making the playoffs won’t be satisfactory, though. The Titans would like to establish themselves further, both now and for seasons to come.
“We’re still rebuilding. We’re still not there. I didn’t think we played our best ball [Sunday],” Haynesworth said. “Even though we got a win, we’ve still got to play better to beat San Diego next week.”
Added Fisher, “The key here is not to all of a sudden take a deep breath, throw your arms up in the air and say, ‘We made it.’ We expect to make it every year. We made it, now we need to do something about it.”
INJURIES: Fisher had little to say Monday regarding the injury status of quarterback Vince Young and others who exited the game against the Colts.
Young suffered a right quadriceps injury similar to what caused him to miss a game in Houston earlier this season.
“We’ll see how he is. We haven’t ruled him out. It will be a day-to-day thing,” was the best Fisher would offer on Monday regarding his starting quarterback.
Running back Chris Brown (back) and cornerback Nick Harper (groin) also left the game early on Sunday, while center Kevin Mawae (calf) and linebacker Gilbert Gardner (calf) were inactive because of previous injuries.