Playoffs Do Or Die Time For Titans

By Wes Holtsclaw
STAR STAFF
wholtsclaw@starhq.com

   NASHVILLE -- When this season's NFL schedule was released last summer, many people had circled December 28 on the calendar.
   The Tennessee Titans opened with the defending AFC Champs (Oakland Raiders) and got a shot at the defending NFL champions Sunday in Buccaneers.
   However, it was a dissappointed Bucs squad who had a rough season, plagued by many injuries.
   "It's a frustrating year following a Liberty Bowl win or any bowl win. It's very frustrating," said Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden. "We are very realistic about what has occurred here in the last year or so."
   "A lot of things have changed since Super Bowl XXXVII, obviously," he said. "I like our football team and I believe we have a good solid nucleus. However, we have some things we do have to improve upon."
   The Buccaneer coach said that Tennessee had a great shot at making the Super Bowl after Sunday's game, however, the Titans players know they have a lot of work ahead of them beginning in Baltimore.
   "There's no question," Gruden said. "They have the number one rushing defense. They got a quarterback that is an MVP caliber player. With Neil O'Donnell, say what you want, he's been here in the system for a long time. It's not like everything was foreign to him today."
   "They got a big back and outstanding receivers," he said. "They are a big physical football team, just looking at them. They are a very good team. They are indeed capable, that's no question."
   "It doesn't matter where you play in this league, you've got to handle your business at home or on the road," said Titans defensive end Jevon Kearse, who recorded his first career interception on Sunday.
   "I feel we're playing pretty well. I can speak defensively, that we've got some good things going. We were able to play a lot of people today at the end of the game and get second and third team players in the game. Depth is so important in the playoffs."
   "This is what it is all about, taking it to the next level," Kearse said. "On the road or getting to play at home, you want to make the playoffs. This next season, this postseason is a whole new season, so our 12-4 record is out the window now. Everybody is 0-0 next week in the playoffs."
   The Titans know what is in store for them against the Ravens, who have beaten them the last five times the teams have met, including an AFC second-round game in Nashville in 2000, after which the Ravens won the Super Bowl.
   "It is do or die. Ravens, Chiefs, Colts; it doesn't matter," said Titans linebacker Keith Bullock. "Whoever we play, it is do or die, one game at a time. We are prepared to go on the road."
   "It doesn't matter to us. It would have been nice to be here with our fans at our place, but this is what we've got," he said. "My mind was set that we were going on the road. Wherever we go, the fun begins. You just play and have fun and play until you lose. That's what makes it fun."
   Baltimore brings a rock-solid defense led by linebacker Ray Lewis and a strong rushing game with former University of Tennessee back Jamal Lewis, who was trying to break the NFL single-season rushing record at press time.
   "It is a great challenge. They are a good football team," added Titans coach Jeff Fisher. "They are very good on defense. They run the football very well. Because they have locked things up, there is no telling what they will do."
   "We are going to go back to the office and get ready. We are going to prepare as if we have a short week with a game Saturday."