When a season goes south — and the Tennessee Titans appear somewhere near Argentina at the moment — inevitable questions arise. What's wrong with the Titans? How can they fix it? And the ultimate knock on any sports team: Have they quit?
If you're around coaches and players enough in practice situations, there are four-letter words in abundance. But the Q word is not one any athlete or coach wants associated with them, no matter if the proverbial sinking ship is just taking on water or perched on the ocean floor. However, in the Titans' 59-0 mashing by the New England Patriots on Oct. 18, "quit" was a word uttered by many NFL analysts and fans alike, all of them questioning the Titans' efforts.
Not surprisingly, it was something that didn't set too well with the players.
"It pisses me off," running back LenDale White said. "I know all the people on my team work hard. I know that everybody does when we go out there for game day. I know everybody out there was fighting to get a win. Everybody went out there and prepared to get a victory.
"Nobody quit on us. We gave effort. Believe me, we did what we could. We tried very hard, but it is what it is."
To paraphrase Stephen Stills and Buffalo Springfield, "What it is ain't exactly clear" when it comes to evaluating the 2009 edition of the Tennessee Titans.
Coach Jeff Fisher was in no mood to discuss the very thought of the team's efforts being lacking, even when asked if people jumping to that conclusion were short-sighted to do so.
"I'm not concerned what people think outside this building. I know what goes on here. I'm not concerned about your opinion or anybody else's opinion outside this building," Fisher said.
Titans players aren't putting much stock into those sorts of accusations either as they try to find a way to crack the win column and end a losing streak that, dating back to last season, has now reached eight games.
"Most people that are talking haven't played a down in their life, haven't played a game in their life. So we block all that stuff out," tight end Bo Scaife said.
The losing itself is taking enough of a toll without the effort being brought under the microscope.
"This is the low point ever in my life," defensive end Jevon Kearse said. "Never in my life have I started off a season like this. We've got to stay together because there's a lot of testing going on right now that's testing a lot of our character right now."
Defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, whose efforts would never be questioned given his style of play, doesn't believe the team is lackadaisical, but says lapses in focus have played a role in the Titans' downfall.
"There's a lot of things that happened wrong in that game, but it wasn't a lack of effort," Vanden Bosch said. "If we execute this defense properly, if the offense executes properly, if we were doing the right things on special teams, we would be winning games.
"That's what it comes down to. I don't think it's a lack of preparation, a lack of emotion or a lack of heart. We've got plenty of heart. Obviously, some of the mistakes we've had, there's lapses of focus. I don't know the reason for that, but I think it's something we can correct and we can fix."
But making those corrections takes extra effort, and that has to come from each individual player.
Linebacker Keith Bulluck says every player has to be his own man and commit extra time and energies toward rectifying his own situation and applying that toward the team's issues.
"We have an obligation to go out there and be prepared and play. You get what you put into your game. I say that, meaning that if you study hours of film on your own and go over your notes, you should be able to go out there and be successful on Sunday," Bulluck said. "But if it's just a handful of guys doing it, the whole unit won't be as successful.
"...I wouldn't say anyone quit [in New England]," he added. "It was cold, it was snowing, we were down however many points. You can't quit. I didn't see anyone quit, and I watched the film. At the end of the day, everybody is a man of their own. All you can do is encourage them and tell them."
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