Titans earning respect

KEN FIDLIN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:55 AM ET

At what point do we have to start taking the Tennessee Titans seriously?

There always are dozens of ways to pick at the scabs on any NFL team but it seems that there always is a series of "buts" when people assess the unbeaten Titans. The bottom line is Tennessee is halfway home at 8-0.

Last year at this time, the hype over the undefeated New England Patriots was deafening.

This year, you can hear a pin drop.

It's probably about style and strength of schedule but the Titans are having some trouble getting any respect. Yes, they've only beaten one team that currently has a winning record. Their offence is being run by retread Kerry Collins and the numbers on that side of the ball are only average. They're 23rd in yards per game and ninth in points per game.

Defensively, they are among the best in the league, but not head and shoulders above the crowd. They are fourth-ranked in yards allowed per game but they have allowed the fewest points per game and that clearly is what has set them apart so far.

Yesterday they were pushed to overtime against the Packers, which might be the best team they've faced. Next week they face the Chicago Bears and if they survive that one, there's not a lot of resistance (Jacksonville, the Jets, Detroit and Cleveland) for another four games. By that time, they could be 13-0. They finish up with Houston, Pittsburgh and Indianapolis.

The Packers caught the Titans coming off a Monday-nighter and gave them just about everything they could handle yesterday, taking them to overtime, but still, there is a growing sense Tennessee is fundamentally solid all the way through, with a punishing run attack and solid defence as solid cornerstones.

They're not doing it with mirrors. Pretty soon, somebody might even start to take notice.

RAVIN' 'BOUT THE RAVENS

Speaking of respect, the Ravens deserve some for their comeback win that may have delivered a serious message to the rest of the AFC North. Baltimore was down by two touchdowns with 16 minutes left and simply undressed division rival Cleveland in the fourth quarter, scoring 24 unanswered points.

It wasn't just a win. It creates some separation between the Ravens and the bottom two teams in the division and allows them to set their sights on the Steelers at the top.

Like the Titans, the Ravens are relentless on defence and rookie QB Joe Flacco just doesn't seem ready to wilt under the pressure of his first year in the big time. Not only did he lead them back from oblivion yesterday, the 37-point production was the most the Ravens ever had scored in a road game.

LUCKY BUCS

Hard to tell what was more pathetic: The Buccaneers allowing the woeful Kansas City Chiefs to get a 21-point lead or the Chiefs allowing the Bucs to come back and win the game.

Leading by eight points in the dying seconds of the fourth quarter, the Chiefs found a way to lose their 16th game in their past 17. Jeff Garcia delivered a TD pass to Antonio Bryant and then converted on the two-point convert to force overtime.

The snakebit Chiefs appeared to have dodged a bullet in overtime when Tampa kicker Matt Bryant missed a 38-yard field goal attempt but, as luck would have it, the Bucs were saved by their own false-start penalty, negating the play. Tampa ran one more play, got back into field goal position and Bryant ended the game, giving Tampa a 30-27 win.

As a result, the Bucs remain in the mix in the NFC South and while the comeback must have been a thrill in the Tampa locker room, you don't have to be Vince Lombardi or even Jon Gruden to see they can't be contenders playing this way.

'BOYS IN A FIX

The Dallas Cowboys slipped into last place in the NFC East, and not with a bang but a whimper. They were simply outclassed by the New York Giants. Given the state of the Cowboys' health as a franchise, it wasn't too difficult to predict. You have to wonder about a team that spends money so freely as the Cowboys do, not having the kind of depth it takes to withstand injuries to key personnel like Tony Romo.

It does not speak too well to the way Jerry Jones or his minions are handling the salary cap. And just think, next year with that new pigskin palace opening, he'll have a lot more money to mis-spend.


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