Now that the Tennessee Titans know what it takes to get deep in the playoffs, it won’t be long until they return – or go even farther. Right?
Not so fast.
The only thing the current group of players and coaches know is that Sunday’s 35-24 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship is the last time all of them will be together as a unit. With the offseason comes personnel changes – additions and departures – to the roster and the coaching staff. The draft will provide an influx of fresh faces fighting to earn a spot.
It is the same reality that every team eventually confronts.
“You never know. Year to year, everything is different,” cornerback Logan Ryan said Sunday. “So, just because you did good this year doesn’t mean next year you can go out there and say, ‘Oh, we’ll be right back here.’ It doesn’t work like that. It takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of effort. … So, we can’t sit here and talk about next year.
“I’ll talk about the special locker room we have here. It was a great run. I don’t think we’ll realize how great it was until we take some time to swallow it. But we did some special things, man, against all odds.”
These Titans overcame a 2-4 start to finish 9-7 and earn a playoff spot. They became the first Tennessee team since the 1999 Super Bowl squad to win two playoff games in a year. They beat the team with the NFL’s No. 1 defense (New England) and No. 1 offense (Baltimore) – both on the road. They re-energized a fan base that had become accustomed to early endings.
And they did it with an esprit de corps that can be difficult to muster in professional sports.
“Everybody bought into the system,” defensive lineman Jurrell Casey said. “Everybody was ready to go this season. Everybody in the stable was at hand. … [Coach Mike] Vrabel and the coaching staff did a great job of bringing the family atmosphere into the building and everybody bought into it. That was the biggest thing that kept us running this season.”
Added offensive lineman Dennis Kelly: “Vrabel talked about [the idea that] we’re all family here. We’ll fight together. We’ll laugh together. I think it’s a very good analogy because I do think everyone in here will do anything for their teammate and for their brother. So, there’s a really cool chemistry that this team has.”
Whether they will be able to replicate the formula next year – or ever – remains to be seen.
The roster in the postseason included 17 players who were not with the Titans last season. Some were central figures to the playoff run, like quarterback Ryan Tannehill, guard Rodger Saffold or rookie wide receiver A.J. Brown. Many were role players such as Derick Roberson or rookie safety Amani Hooker. Some, like cornerback Tremaine Brock or kicker Greg Joseph, were late additions.
All of them figured into the mix somehow.
Now, they will have to figure out how to do it all again. Eventually.
“Nobody prepared to come in the locker room and lose a game,” safety Kevin Byard said. “We came in this game preparing to win the AFC Championship to get to the Super Bowl. I’m just going to try to cherish these last moments I have with my teammates – on the bus, on the plane – because we really built a brotherhood that can’t be broken, honestly.
“I just hate it, the way the NFL works, that we won’t be together again as a full 53-man roster. … I’m super thankful and blessed to be able to play with this group of men.”