Titans silence critics

KEN FIDLIN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:55 AM ET

The Tennessee Titans have had a tough time getting the kind of respect they think they deserve. This was a win that will be hard for anyone to ignore.

Playing without two of their Pro-Bowl defenders in a showdown with the Steelers for homefield advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, the Titans dominated Pittsburgh. With their 31-14 win they silenced critics who had been sniffing that Tennessee had not yet faced and handled adversity. Coach Jeff Fisher called it his team's best game in a year in which they have won 13 of 15.

After the Steelers had taken a 14-10 lead with 9:41 left in the third quarter, the Titans took over the game on both sides of the ball and did not give Pittsburgh an opportunity thereafter.

For the Titans it was all about momentum heading into the playoffs, especially since they'll be sitting out the first week after next Sunday's season finale against the Colts in Indianapolis.

"It sets the tone for the playoffs in the AFC," said linebacker Keith Bulluck, who stomped all over one of Pittsburgh's famed Terrible Towels on the sidelines after the game, an act of defiance that won't be lost on the Steelers if they meet again in a few weeks.

With Albert Haynesworth and Kyle Vanden Bosch both sidelined with injuries, the Titans defensive line did not miss a beat and, in fact, outplayed Pittsburgh's defence, pressuring Ben Roethlisberger all day and forcing him to fumble three times.

Normally a conservative offensive club, the Titans twice gambled on fourth, converting both times. They rolled up more than 300 yards on offence, the first Pittsburgh opponent in 14 games to reach that level.

The first-round bye and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs are nice to have but they hardly a guarantee a spot in the Super Bowl. The past three champs (the Giants, Colts and Steelers) did not have a bye and started their path to the big game on the road.

MADE IN BUFFALO

If somehow the San Diego Chargers, one of the NFL's great underachieving outfits this year, get a chance to compete in the Super Bowl playoffs, anything they win should have "Made in Buffalo" printed on it.

As the Chargers were flying back to San Diego yesterday after upsetting Tampa Bay, they needed the Bills to cover their backsides in Denver against the heavily favoured Broncos.

The Bills did their part, beating Denver 30-23, and the Chargers landed at home with a new lease on their playoff lives. Now all the Chargers have to do is beat the Broncos in the season finale in San Diego next Sunday to claim the AFC West title and a spot in the playoffs. As recently as three weeks ago, Denver seemed unstoppable at the top of the division with a three-game lead. Now it is in a one-game shootout against a team that has nothing to lose.

BEARS' PARLAY COMES IN

The Chicago Bears' playoff hopes began the weekend on life support but an unlikely combination of results have the patient dancing into tonight's matchup with Green Bay. The Bears needed Dallas, Tampa and Philadelphia all to lose to stay in the NFC wild-card race and they needed Minnesota to lose to Atlanta to keep their NFC North title hopes alive.

The unlikely parlay came through and now the 8-6 Bears need to beat the Packers tonight to take advantage.

The most significant of those games was the Atlanta win in Minnesota. The Falcons, in the wake of the Michael Vick scandal and after losing their coach, Bobby Petrino, who fled back to the college game, have rebounded in amazing fashion behind rookie QB Matt Ryan.

A year after winning just four games, general manager Thomas Dimitroff, a University of Guelph grad whose dad, also Thomas, coached in the CFL and was the head coach of the Guelph Gryphons, has hit home runs with his draft picks and his free-agent signings, leading the team into the playoffs.


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