NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Shame is a mighty motivator. The Tennessee Titans are proof.
A Tennessee defense that allowed more yards per game than any team in the NFL last season is now the league's stingiest unit near the goal line.
The Titans are the only NFL team not to allow a point - zip, zero, nada - in the fourth quarter through four games, a franchise first.
"As a defense, we were embarrassed about the numbers we put up last year," defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch said Wednesday.
"I mean we had enough talent. We didn't change a lot of things. ... We kind of looked at ourselves in the mirror. To be a good defense, there's no reason why we can't be. We kind of took it on ourselves to change that."
Linebacker Keith Bulluck didn't like the number 32 - out of 32 teams - being attached to his defense.
"I brought it to my teammates' attention, and it didn't sit well with them," Bulluck said. "We've been working on our defense and the way we play since April. It's all paying off so far."
This is a team with a history of strong defenses.
For example, in 2000 the Titans were first in fewest yards allowed and second to Baltimore in fewest points allowed.
Their numbers are back in line this season, particularly in the fourth quarter when they have shut out the likes of Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison and Drew Brees and Reggie Bush
Linebacker David Thornton calls it a decent start.
"Fans and media look for things like that to say, 'Hey, this team is definitely playing better.' We want to listen to our coaches. We don't focus on what everyone is saying about us. We know our identity as a team, and we know what we have to continue to do to improve," he said.
The Titans were at their best in the fourth quarter last week protecting a 20-13 victory against Atlanta. Three of four Falcons' drives started at the Tennessee 45 or closer, the last two at the Titans 21 and 19.
With two minutes left, Vanden Bosch chased down Warrick Dunn with a flying tackle at the one. Tackle Albert Haynesworth leaped over the line on the next play, forcing a fumble and an eight-yard loss. Vanden Bosch finished off the goal-line stand with a sack.
"He is a great example for what you do during the week, as far as taking care of yourself and getting the rest and coming out and working hard at practice," coach Jeff Fisher said of Vanden Bosch.
"That carries over. We're seeing that in some of the other positions."
Atlanta got two field goals against the defense, which has allowed only three touchdowns on 12 possessions inside the Tennessee 20. That's a 25 per cent success rate that's better than anyone. Washington has given up three TDs on 10 possessions, a 30 per cent clip.
Fisher said the challenge now is continuing the success.
"You can't afford to let up in this area. It's a point of focus, and they take pride in it," he said.
Some personnel changes also helped.
Middle linebacker Ryan Fowler, a restricted free agent signed away from Dallas, brought speed and a physical presence. Cornerback Nick Harper, signed from the Colts, replaced suspended Adam "Pacman" Jones. Calvin Lowry won the free safety job in his second training camp.
"I think they've really settled in and started playing well as a unit," Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden said in conference call.
Gruden gets his chance to see them in person Sunday when the Buccaneers (3-2) host the Titans (3-1).
Complacency isn't likely to be a problem. Safety Chris Hope points out they have room for improvement after narrowly avoiding overtime last week.
Bulluck also is ready to remind them no number is final yet.
"Four down, 12 to go," he said. "Our goal as a defense is to be a Top 10 defense by the end of the year..."