On Thursday, Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher parachuted into practice and surprised his team.
On Sunday, it was the Titans that came crashing back to earth with a 34-13 loss to the New York Jets.
The thud resonated throughout LP Field, as the Jets beat the Titans at their own game, controlling the clock, running the football efficiently and using a short to medium passing game with deadly accuracy behind Brett Favre, who completed 25 of 32 for 224 yards with a pair of scores and one interception.
Meanwhile, the Titans assisted in their own demise with a number of dropped passes in the first half, and missed tackles throughout the game.
The loss drops the Titans to 10-1 for the season and ended their regular-season winning streak at 13 games.
“It was definitely a frustrating day,” said fullback Ahmard Hall, who scored the Titans only touchdown in the fourth quarter on a 6-yard pass from Kerry Collins. “As an offensive player, you never want to be watching the other offense out there the whole time doing their thing. We watched Brett Favre and the Jets offense out there executing and getting the job done.
“They definitely played our style of football. They controlled the clock. They executed well and they ran the ball well.”
The Jets dominated from the outset, scoring their opening possession by going 76 yards in nine plays with a screen pass from Favre to Thomas Jones going the final 10 yards for the touchdown and the quick lead.
In previous weeks, the Titans had been able to bounce back from slow starts and find a way to win. They were down by 11 points the previous week at Jacksonville and rallied to win with a dominant second half.
On Sunday, however, there would be no comeback, as the Titans trailed 10-3 by halftime and just they just kept finding ways to make the hole deeper. The Jets dominated third down on both sides of the football, with Favre converting 7 of 13 tries, while the Titans managed just 4 of 11 in the game.
Tennessee’s rushing attack, which had been hit and miss over the past few weeks, missed most of Sunday with just 45 yards on 11 carries. The Titans had to abandon the run altogether in the second half, when they found themselves down 27-6 after Leon Washington’s 61-yard run with 11:07 to play.
“I feel we hurt ourselves out there today,” said rookie Chris Johnson, who had 46 yards rushing, while LenDale White lost one yard on his only carry. “The o-line missed a few blocks, the backs missed a few reads, and we had a few drops on the outside. It was just a whole offensive thing, and we’ve got to get it going.”
It was a familiar refrain in the locker room Sunday, as the offense struggled to hold up its end of the bargain in the first half with at least five dropped passes from quarterback Kerry Collins, leaving the defense to eventually wilt on the field by playing 73 snaps and giving up 192 yards rushing.
“Maybe now we understand. We’re saying the right things. We’re preaching the right things,” tight end Alge Crumpler said. “But we didn’t get into a rhythm early. There were penalties, dropped balls.”
The defense had its culpability as well, as Favre and the running back tandem of Thomas Jones and Leon Washington kept the Titans off-balance and his team in short-yardage situations for much of the day. On the whole, the Jets churned out 409 yards total offense, averaging 4.9 yards per rush and 6.4 yards per pass play.
Worse than that, a defense that had prided itself mostly on not allowing points _ just over 13 per game coming in _ was shredded as New York scored on all four of its second-half possessions.
“They weren’t more physical. They just kept us off balance and their quarterback, he ain’t HOF for nothing,” defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth said. “He’s a great quarterback, probably the best in the league. He just kept us off-balance with the hard counts and the first downs and running the ball and passing the ball, just kept us off balance.”
When it was over, the Titans could do little but tip their caps to the team that ruined their perfect season and sent them to the drawing board searching for answers to regroup in time for Thursday’s game at winless Detroit.
“That’s football. They were kind of on point today,” linebacker Keith Bulluck said. “We’re still 10-1 and hopefully on Thursday we’ll be 11-1.
“I’m not going to sit here and keep complimenting the Jets. … I don’t think they’re a better team than we are, but today they were by far.”
The Titans themselves said they are glad they have a short week and can put the loss aside by turning the focus to the 0-11 Lions.
“We need to get to the next game and take this loss out on the next team. I’m very eager to see how we bounce back. It is my first loss in the NFL,” Johnson said. “I’ve never had to experience this, but I know this team, this offense and this defense, we’re ready to get back on the field and show people we’re a better team than we displayed today.”
Nickelback Vincent Fuller said a taste of defeat should work well to getting the Titans refocused.
“I know how we’re going to bounce back. We’re going to be successful,” Fuller said. “We’re going to go to work tomorrow and gear up for this game on Thanksgiving. One loss and we have this taste in our mouths that nobody wants to feel for two consecutive games. I think it’s a positive that we have a game coming up on Thursday.”
Either way, after Sunday’s shellacking, the Titans know that type of performance won’t cut it down the stretch or in the postseason.
“The good thing is where we’re at right now. It’s good that it happened now, maybe rather than in the playoffs,” safety Michael Griffin said.
Bulluck was even more pronounced in letting his feeling be known.
“The Jets came out and played real tough today because there was something on the line. Now, we’ve got a little more on the line. The stakes are higher,” Bulluck said. “Turn up the heat a little bit. They’re not gaining. I don’t think they’re gaining _ yeah, in the standings. But football is a mentality, and I think a game like this toughens an already tough team.”