NASHVILLE, Tenn. ⏤ After locking up their second-straight AFC South title by embarrassing the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, several Tennessee Titans players spoke about how the team’s goals go beyond a division championship.

“I feel like this is the new standard here, but we want more,” WR A.J. Brown said. “It feels good to go back-to-back, but it’s not the end goal.”

We can talk about the Super Bowl later, though.

For now, the Titans deserve to be praised and celebrated for what they’ve already accomplished this season.

That’s not to say that a division title is, in and of itself, worthy of throwing a parade; it’s not. 25% of the NFL wins a division title each year, and plenty of crappy teams have lucked into one over the years.

But the Titans didn’t just win the AFC South⏤they won the AFC South despite virtually nothing going according to plan for them throughout the season, namely due to injuries.

“We’ve been through a lot, faced a lot of adversity,” QB Ryan Tannehill said. “It’s kind of wild when you think back through everything we’ve been through.”

BEATEN AND BATTERED

The injury that stands out for Tennessee is, of course, RB Derrick Henry, who hasn’t played since Week Eight because of a broken foot. Henry is the lifeblood of the Titans’ offense, and he’s been dearly missed.

The Titans’ injury woes, however, go far beyond No. 22.

WR Julio Jones has barely played because of a hamstring problem. It took the team’s five preferred offensive line starters 17 weeks to start and complete a game together. WR A.J. Brown spent three games on IR, as did OLB Bud Dupree and CB Kristian Fulton.

That list could go on and on but, in the interest of brevity, we’ll leave it at that.

As a result of the Titans’ litany of injuries, they were forced to set a unique NFL record: most unique players used during a single regular season.

Yet, despite that, Tennessee stayed afloat and then some.

Their record without Henry is 5-3, they’re set for at least one home playoff game and a win against the hapless Texans in Week 18 would give them the No. 1 seed and the first-round bye that accompanies it.

“IT DOESN’T MATTER WHO’S IN OR OUT”

How have the Titans done it?

“I think it says more about Vrabel and Jon and what they have done putting the guys in this locker room,” tackle Taylor Lewan said.

“It doesn’t matter who is in or who is out. I think you saw it in the middle of the year, there were times where we played games and you were picking up dudes off the street. You were like, ‘Hey, we need 11 dudes to be on the field.’ And those guys took advantage of their opportunities and are still here.”

Lewan is right that general manager Jon Robinson and head coach Mike Vrabel and deserve a lot of credit for the Titans’ perseverance.

As each injury has occurred for the Titans, Robinson has brought in a capable free agent or two to help replace them. Vrabel, a popular candidate for NFL Coach of the Year, has consistently put his team in a position to win with solid game plans no matter who he’s had available.

Vrabel and Robinson don’t deserve all the credit, though, as the Titans’ players themselves, especially those who have stepped up to play roles much bigger than they likely ever anticipated playing, should also be lauded.

The Titans’ players who have managed to avoid injury and play in every game⏤such as Tannehill, C Ben Jones and S Kevin Byard⏤have continued to perform well and set the tone.

And the injury replacements⏤namely RB D’Onta Foreman, WR Nick Westbrook-Ikhine and CB Buster Skrine⏤have stepped up.

“We just do what we do⏤the next-man-up mentality that we’ve been having this entire year where guys have been coming in, getting signed, playing the same week, guys been out here playing a lot of snaps for us,” Byard said.

Sure, the Titans haven’t reached their ultimate goal, and this season should be considered a failure if the team repeats its 2020 ending and goes one and done.

It would be remiss, though, to not recognize how impressive it is that this team, with all it’s endured this season, will host a playoff game and, potentially, enter the postseason as the top seed.

Cover image: Andrew Nelles/The Tennessean