Tennessee Titans Won't Get Caught Up in Talk of Perfection

Alex MarvezCorrespondent INovember 8, 2008

NASHVILLE - Kyle Vanden Bosch is the anti-Namath.

During a Friday interview with FOXSports.com, the standout Tennessee defensive end was asked whether the 8-0 Titans are prepared to handle all of the trappings that come with being undefeated should their winning ways continue.

The answer would make Broadway Joe wince.

"We're going to lose a game," Vanden Bosch said inside the locker room at Titans headquarters. "We're going to lose more than a game. I don't think anybody here is talking about an undefeated season or expecting to go undefeated. We're going to lose.

"At this point, we've put ourselves in good position to make the playoffs. That's our goal."

Vanden Bosch isn't being a defeatist. He's just a realist—and wisely so.

The 1972 Miami Dolphins remained the NFL's only team to complete a perfect season after the 2007 New England Patriots fell to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII. In retrospect, the Patriots might have benefited from an earlier loss.

This would have diffused the pressure and hoopla that engulfed the franchise during the pregame build-up while also fueling the upset-minded Giants.

The Titans enter Sunday's game at Chicago (5-3) a long way from perfection. Tennessee's rough-and-tumble style of play isn't conducive to the caliber of blowouts New England posted en route to an 18-0 pre-Super Bowl mark.

The Titans are thriving because of a dominating rushing attack and smothering defense, not a passing game that could lack sufficient ammunition if Tennessee is forced into a shootout.

But should the franchise keep rolling, the Titans seem prepared to handle what will be an increasingly high cost of success.

"We've avoided the let-down games, the set-up games and all that other stuff the media calls them because this team has figured out a way to stay focused," Titans center Kevin Mawae said. "We're not worried about all the rest of the games. We're worried about the next game. That's been the key."

The ability to overcome distractions and outside influences was cultivated in 2007 for the wrong reasons. Tennessee reached the playoffs—making huge strides defensively in the process—while dealing with a season-long soap opera involving suspended cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones.

Vanden Bosch admits Tennessee's off-season trade of Jones to Dallas "has made things easier" for Titans players.

"Every week, we've just been able to focus on our next opponent and not talk about off-the-field things," Vanden Bosch said.

Well, almost.

For the first month of the season, the controversy surrounding Titans quarterback Vince Young overshadowed Tennessee's on-field accomplishments. Young already raised eyebrows during the offseason when telling the NFL's web site that he contemplated retirement after his rookie season.

This was just months after he received $26 million in guaranteed money as the 2006 draft's third overall pick.

Young then had a meltdown during the season-opener against Jacksonville. He reportedly asked to get benched while being heavily booed by the home crowd, then suffered a knee injury after remaining in the game.

The situation turned even darker the following day when Nashville police were called amidst concerns that Young was acting erratically and, according to a law-enforcement report, had become potentially suicidal.

While concerned with Young's well-being, Titans coach Jeff Fisher also knew crisis management was needed to keep his team on track. Mawae said Fisher made it "very clear" that backup Kerry Collins "was going to be the guy until future notice."

"There was no discussion about it. That was the way it is," Mawae said. "Players bought into it. There was no reason for it to be a distraction because we knew Vince was going to be out for a minimum of four weeks with the (knee) injury anyway.

"Of course, had we gone 0-4 in that time, I don't know whether that would have changed things or not. But as it was, we started winning. By the time he was ready to come back, we were already 5-0 so we just stayed with it."

The 35-year-old Collins lacks flash, but his other attributes have proven more valuable. Bolstered by the AFC's top rushing attack (149.1-yard average), Collins has thrown only three interceptions on a team that leads the NFL in turnover ratio (plus-10). He also provides veteran leadership that Mawae says "has been a calming influence for everybody."

"For the most part, I've been able to make good decisions—or I should say not a lot of bad decisions," Collins said. "That's been a big part of it. My approach to the game is sound as far as preparing, practicing and getting ready to play. I think I bring a fair amount of stability."

That wasn't the case early in Collins' 14-year NFL career when alcoholism and racial slurs directed at teammates during drunken attempts at bonding ended his tenure with the Carolina Panthers. But while Collins has plenty of advice to offer about overcoming adversity, Young may not have much interest in listening.

"We don't have a lot of major, big discussions," Collins allowed. "But hopefully, there's things he can take away from the way I prepare and approach things that maybe can help him."

Regardless, the Titans are prepared to keep rolling with or without Young.

Rookie speedster Chris Johnson and bruiser LenDale White have emerged as the league's best rushing tandem behind a crushing offensive line. Pro Bowl kicker Rob Bironas leads a sound special teams unit. A defense that has allowed the league's fewest points (12.9 average) is highlighted by a legitimate NFL Most Valuable Player candidate in defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth.

And directing it all is Fisher, who is now in his 15th year coaching a franchise that was in Houston when he began.

"It's a different team than some of the other teams I've had," said Fisher, who weathered 2004 and 2005 seasons of 5-11 and 4-12 during Tennessee's rebuilding process. "It's very similar to the 1999 and 2000 teams."

That 1999 squad came literally inches away from defeating St. Louis in Super Bowl XXXIV. A return trip nine seasons later is Tennessee's goal — regardless of how many losses come on the way there.

"We can't let things go to our head," Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck said. "We don't have time for any complacency. We have eight more games to go during the regular season. If we approach them like we did the first eight, we'll be alright."

This article originally published on FOXSports.com.

More of Alex's articles can be found here.


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