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Titans Look to Seize 'Special Opportunity'

After a bye in the wild card round, players hope Saturday's NFL divisional playoff game against the Cincinnati Bengals is the start of a championship journey.

NASHVILLE – Just a game? Yes and no.

The Tennessee Titans know they can’t win a championship Saturday when they host the Cincinnati Bengals in an NFL divisional playoff contest at Nissan Stadium. A victory in this one gets them one step closer to that goal.

Yet they’re not in the regular season anymore. Of that, they also are well aware.

“It’s go time,” safety Kevin Byard said. “I kind of told the defense when we came out (for Tuesday’s practice) … you have to cherish these moments. … You lock in for a month, and everything we worked for, everything we’ve talked about since we were kids is right there in front of us.”

The trick is to not look too far ahead.

To be champions, the Titans have to win three more games. They have to get past the Bengals, an up-and-coming team led by a young quarterback with a dynamic stable of playmakers at his disposal, and then dispatch either the Kansas City Chiefs or Buffalo Bills in the AFC Championship. The Chiefs have played in the last two Super Bowls (they won one), and the Bills were seemingly everyone’s preseason favorite to win it all. After that – if they get that far – the Titans will have to beat the NFC’s best team.

Presented all at once, it looks like a lot. That creates the need to focus on this one game against the Bengals as simply that, one game, and not to get overwhelmed by all the possibilities for what is to come.

“We’ve got a special opportunity here,” wide receiver A.J. Brown said. “But we’ve got to take it one game at a time. This is a big game, but we’re not going to try to make it no bigger than what it is.

“It’s a big playoff game, and we understand we’ve got to come out here and we’ve got to play our style of football each and every time.”

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They understand that nothing is certain at this time of year.

Two seasons ago, Tennessee was the last team to make the playoffs yet delivered a pair of stunning upsets on the road before it fell to Kansas City in the conference championship. In 2020, playing at home in the postseason for the first time in 12 years, it was a one-and-done experience, courtesy of the Baltimore Ravens.

Twenty-two-players on the Titans’ roster, following the addition of running back Derrick Henry on Friday, were a part of that 2019 runs and have remained with the franchise since. Another 17 never have been in a playoff game.

“You try to play it down,” left tackle Taylor Lewan said. “People say it’s just another game, but this is a win-or-go-home situation. We’re extremely excited, and I think that Nissan Stadium – this is a huge opportunity for our fans to show us what they have. We can’t wait to see them come and support us.”

This will be the sixth postseason game in the history of the stadium, which opened in 1999. The first was a wild card victory over the Buffalo Bills that season, a game known as the Music City Miracle, but overall, the home team is just 2-3.

The last time the Titans won a postseason home was Jan. 11, 2003, an overtime victory against Pittsburgh in the divisional round.

They will have to win two just to get to this year’s Super Bowl.

“We put a lot of work in this year,” Byard said. “We accomplished some good things. But when the playoffs start, none of that stuff means anything.

“… In my opinion, the type of team that we have – the guys we have the coaches – not winning the Super Bowl would be a disappointment.”