Titans out, but remember what they did in 2019
The Cinderella story is over for the Tennessee Titans.
But they won’t soon be forgotten.
The Titans scraped into the playoff with an unspectacular 9-7 regular-season record but took their talents to new heights thereafter. Their postseason run took their 2019 campaign from “good” to undeniably “great” and set the stage for success in the future.
Close but no cigar
Naturally, coming up one game short of the stings regardless of it was expected or not. And it was expected. Tennessee was a touchdown underdog against the second-seeded Chiefs, who were hosting the AFC Championship for the second time in as many years. Not too much unlike Houston one week earlier, the visitors came out blazing to put Kansas City in a double-digit hole. The Chiefs, however, laughed at that 10-0 first-quarter deficit in the face and eventually rolled to a 35-24 victory.
“It’s tough,” Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill admitted. “Honestly, I’m kind of in shock a little bit. You don’t prepare yourself for this outcome. Everything in your preparation, in your mind is we’re gonna win this game. You don’t really even think of the other side.”
The other side
That other side now involves an offseason littered with question marks. Star running back Derrick Henry can become a free agent if a new deal is not struck by March 10. Tannehill is heading for unrestricted free agency and this team also has to make decisions on fellow QB Marcus Mariota, linebacker Wesley Woodyard, and offensive tackle Jack Conklin, among others.
As good as the Titans were, they are not a team that can afford to lose many—if any—key pieces without replacing them in a big way. With any team in any spot, you are what your record says you are. Pittsburgh let the Titans off the hook and helped them get into the playoffs, but 9-7 is 9-7. It’s really nothing more than mediocre. Tennessee has to get better—better in a big way, in fact—if it wants to take the next step and seriously contend for a Super Bowl title (our free NFL expert picks will soon have you covered for the upcoming Super Bowl between Kansas City and San Francisco).
Questions can be answered
That’s not to say Titans fans should put a damper on any enthusiasm stemming from this recent run. If Henry returns and to a lesser extent if Tannehill is back, this club is capable of giving it another go. After all, Henry has established himself as the best running back in football. After compiling 1,540 yards and 15 touchdowns during the regular season, the former Heisman trophy winner positively abused New England and Baltimore in the wild-card and divisional playoffs, respectively.
“I think he went from a good running back to a very good running back, but he became a leader,” head coach Mike Vrabel commented. “I think he helped lead this football team. I think he helped carry my message and our staff’s message into the locker room. I think his durability, his effort, his toughness allowed him to be a leader.”
Speaking of Vrabel, the Titans have one of the bright, young coaching stars roaming their sidelines. This team can coach, run the football, and play defense. Even in the current era of spread offenses and boatloads of points being scored, running the ball and playing defense remains a tried and true formula for success.
The Titans have the tools. They simply have to remember how they got this far and then make the right decisions in the offseason.