The playoffs don’t arrive for another four weeks, but it’s hard to tell the Tennessee Titans players that.
They view Sunday’s game with the Miami Dolphins as the type of must-win game that they have to prevail in in order to keep their actual playoff hopes  alive.
The Dolphins are 7-6, as are the Jacksonville Jaguars, Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets. The Titans stand at 6-7, the same as the Pittsburgh Steelers and Houston Texans. Somehow over the next three weeks, all that will be sorted out, and Sunday’s result between Miami and Tennessee will have a bearing on that one way or the other.
“They’re in the same situation we’re in. It will be a playoff atmosphere because it’s an AFC elimination game,” Titans nickelback Vincent Fuller said. “Basically the team that loses can say that after Week 17 their season will be over with, whereas the team that wins more than likely will be able to say they still have hope.”
Fuller and the Titans are in dire straits playoff-wise, needing help at nearly every turn because of tiebreaker issues. But the fact that they are alive at all after an 0-6 beginning is not lost on the players.
“Definitely going into Week 15 of the season, it feels good to mathematically to still be playing in a game that has playoff implications. We’re just looking forward to going out there and pushing ourselves one step closer,” Fuller said. “It’s an elimination game to where you say if we lose, we’re going home when the season ends. We’ve been looking at it since Week 7 or 8 that we need to win if we want to still have hopes for the postseason. We’re fortunate to have hope for our postseason, but we know we have to win this game.”
Defensive end William Hayes echoed Fuller’s sentiments, saying, “Everybody knows our backs are against the wall, but we’re still going to try to make this run. It’s going to take other teams helping us out, too, but we’re up for the challenge.”
Titans coach Jeff Fisher tried to add some levity to the situation, saying he did not regard the game as postseason caliber, but knows the Dolphins will be a tough challenge with Ricky Williams and the running game.
“I think it’s fair to say, without being disrespectful to the Rams, I think the Miami Dolphins are a little bit better than the team we played yesterday,” Fisher said. “So, from that standpoint we’ve got a very important week ahead of us. We’ve got to heal up. We’ve got to put together a game plan that is going to involve stopping what I think is one of the better running games in the National Football League. I think their offensive line is one of the top, they’re physical. Their defense is very aggressive as Jacksonville found out yesterday. I think this is going to be one of the tougher games we’ve had in recent weeks.”
In addition to Vince Young’s injured hamstring , the Titans were also doing tests on David Thornton’s injured shoulder that forced him out of Sunday’s victory over the Rams.
Rookie Gerald McRath finished up in Thornton’s stead on Sunday.
For Thornton it was more frustration as hip and shoulder problems have plagued him this year.
“I was disappointed he couldn’t finish. We’re doing tests right now on his shoulder,” Fisher said Monday.
Fisher said he didn’t mean for anyone to take offense to the two late touchdowns with the Titans already in control in the second half, leading 33-0 at one point before finishing off the 47-7 victory. Twice the Titans went for it on fourth down with both drives ending in touchdowns.
“I think it depends on who is doing the accusing. I didn’t think anything when we lost 59-0 in New England,” Fisher said. “I didn’t think Bill [Belichick] was doing anything intentional. It’s our job to stop it. If someone there was offended then so be it. We were trying to score points and win a ball game. I can kick a field goal and that’s an automatic points. You go for it on fourth down, at least I’m giving them a chance to make a stop. If they were offended then I guess they’ll have to work through their own issues.”
Unusual fake punt
The Rams biggest offensive play of the game came on a fake punt run by Kenneth Darby that went for 51 yards and set up St. Louis’ only touchdown. It came with the Rams trailing 33-0 and with the Titans in only a six-man front at the line.
“You can’t stop that play with a six-man box, that’s all. We could have lined up in seven or eight-man, it’s things like that,” Fisher said. “Instead, we elected to return it, didn’t expect a fake. If we lined up in a seven or eight-man box or left the defense out there, they would have called it off and punted it. It’s just one of those things that happens.”
Fuller now has four interception returns for touchdowns in his career, including two this year. Fuller said he is keeping the footballs from those pick-sixes as mementos of the accomplishments.