Titans know limits

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 4, 2008 - 8:24 AM

Unflashy but also unbeaten, Tennessee doesn't try to be something it isn't.

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Tennessee Titans quarterback Kerry Collins has done a great job managing the game.

Photo: John Russell, Associated Press

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NASHVILLE - Tennessee Titans General Manager Mike Reinfeldt listed two pretty good reasons his team is 8-0 and the surprise of the league through the first half of the 2008 NFL season.

"We understand what we are," Reinfeldt said, "and we understand what we aren't."

What the Titans aren't is flashy, sexy or basically the Dallas Cowboys, who have gone from media darlings in August to 3-0 frontrunners in September to last place in the NFC East in November.

"We don't have a Terrell Owens or a Chad Johnson," Titans center Kevin Mawae said. "We don't have Tony Romo dating a superstar. We just have a bunch of guys who play hard. We don't have distractions."

Actually, as Reinfeldt notes, the Titans did have two distractions that had the potential to derail a season.

"I think every season, you go through certain adversity," Reinfeldt said. "We had the Adam [Pacman] Jones stuff early in the year to deal with, but we traded that one to Dallas. And we had the quarterback change [from Vince Young to Kerry Collins]. It's how you deal with and fight through adversity that defines who you are."

When defining the Titans, a good place to start would be a comparison to the 2000 Baltimore Ravens and the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Those teams were great defensively, ran the ball extremely well and won the Super Bowl with smart, conservative quarterbacks Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson, respectively.

Kerry Collins fills that role perfectly. The 35-year-old ranks 27th in passer rating (72.9), completes only 56.5 percent of his passes and hasn't thrown for 200 yards in a game this season. But he has thrown only three interceptions, taken three sacks and is 7-0 as a starter.

"Kerry has been around a long time and has a great understanding of the game," Reinfeldt said. "Making that even better is the fact [coach] Jeff Fisher and the coaches are doing a great job of putting Kerry in situations where he can be successful."

Translated, that means Fisher and the coaches have Collins on a short leash. Unless absolutely necessary, Collins' job is to hand off to Chris Johnson or LenDale White, or operate a horizontal passing attack that highlights the tight ends and running backs. The wide receivers have only one touchdown, and no individual receiver has more than 19 catches or ranks higher than third on the team in receptions.

The natural argument against the Titans going 16-0 is they won't be able to come from far behind against a good team. But the Tennessee defense is so good, they might not have to.

The Titans have won a league-high 11 consecutive games. In 10 of them, they have held their opponent to 17 or fewer points.

On Sunday, Collins threw for 180 yards and had a passer rating of 62.9. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw for 314 yards and had a passer rating of 76.7.

But Tennessee kicked four field goals, won the turnover battle (2-0) and wore the Packers down, winning 19-16 in overtime.

"We found another way to win," Collins said. "I didn't play my best game, and I think a lot of guys here will say the same thing."

But does it really matter when the team leads the league in scoring defense (12.9) and turnover ratio (plus-10)?

"What I like best about this season," said Reinfeldt, "is we're really a team. It's lots of people working together, being consistent, doing lots of the little things well."

The odds are against the Titans going 16-0. The combined record of their remaining opponents is only 29-35 (.453), but three of those teams have winning records, and five of the games are on the road, including Sunday's trip to Chicago. It's a matchup of division leaders, but the Bears (5-3) could be without starting quarterback Kyle Orton (ankle).

"We're not even going to entertain thoughts of going undefeated," Tennessee linebacker Keith Bulluck said. "We'll leave that for other people."

What else would you expect from a member of a team that would rather be the model than date one.

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