NASHVILLE – For Jeffery Simmons, an NFL season without the playoffs could be nothing more than a rumor.
Except that he has heard about it often enough to know that it is true. Whether in the Tennessee Titans locker room or at family gatherings, he has encountered plenty of people whose offseasons started immediately upon completion of the regular season. He has listened to teammates with little or no postseason experience and to an uncle, Jason Hatcher, who played 10 years in the NFL and missed out on the playoffs more often than not.
“Me, being in my third year, I’ve been to the playoffs three times in a row,” Simmons said. “You can’t take this for granted. You hear guys on our team talking about when they were with other teams. It’s hard to get in the playoffs. It’s hard to get to the point where we’re at – coming off a first-round bye, now getting to go to the divisional round.”
The Titans, who host the Cincinnati Bengals on Saturday (3:30 p.m., CST), are one of four NFL teams that have been in the playoffs for at least each of the past three years. The others are Kansas City, Buffalo and Green Bay, and all four will be in action this week.
The three-year run is the franchise’s longest since the then-Houston Oilers made it seven times straight from 1987-93.
Simmons is one of 20 players who has been a part of all three of those Titans’ teams. That number will grow to 21 when running back Derrick Henry is activated off injured reserve in the next couple days.
Yet there are nearly as many – 18, to be exact – who never have been in a playoff game. That group includes veterans like cornerback Buster Skrine, who is in his 12th season,
kicker Randy Bullock (10th season), and running back D’Onta Foreman, who has been in and out of the league for five years.
Even more have never experienced a postseason victory, including some who were with Tennessee last season when Baltimore came to Nissan Stadium and won 20-13 in the wild card round.
“I was talking to the guys last week about [how] these opportunities don’t just come every year and you have to take advantage of it,” quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. “We realize last year we didn’t go play our best ball and we got sent home. We need to be able to go out, execute against a really good team and come away with a win.”
Tannehill spent seven years with the Miami Dolphins, and the one time during that span that they made the playoffs, he was injured and unable to participate. It was not until 2019, his first season with the Titans, that he finally got to experience the drama and intensity that only occurs in games at this time of year.
Left guard Rodger Saffold has a similar tale to tell. He entered the league in 2010 with the St. Louis Rams but did not get to the postseason until 2017, the second year after the Rams relocated to Los Angeles.
“I know how hard it is,” Saffold said. “It took me eight years to get to my first playoff game. So, I never look at this time of year as something to overlook.”
Experience is one factor that is decidedly on the Titans’ side on Saturday.
The Bengals ended a five-year playoff drought last Saturday against the Las Vegas Raiders in a matchup of relative postseason novices. Cincinnati notched its first postseason victory in 31 years against a team that lasted beyond the regular season for just the second time in 19 years.
“I think we have had some guys that have played in playoff games and won in playoff games,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. “What it really comes down to is executing and being able to maintain focus throughout the game.
“That game (the Bengals) had last week came down to a goal-line stand. They really stayed focused. Looked like the Bengals played each and every play and then were able to finish the game off. I think experience is great, but at the end of the day we are going to have to really just execute, focus, and not do things that hurt us.”