Others Have Made Step Titans Hope to Take

David Boclair

NASHVILLE – The next step is a big one.

The good news for the Tennessee Titans is that the path has been fairly well worn in recent years.

Following their loss in the AFC Championship, the Titans will set their sights on a Super Bowl appearance next season. And they need only to look at the team that eliminated them, the Kansas City Chiefs, to see the way.

With its victory in Super Bowl LIV, Kansas City became the fourth team in 10 years to win the NFL’s final game after having been eliminated in the conference championship the previous season. Tennessee will look to do the same in the coming campaign.

“I was always told by my coach in college that when you have success one year, you have to come back and do the same exact thing next year, if not better,” safety Kevin Byard said. “So, I think that has to be the blueprint. Whatever guys did in the offseason as far as their training regimen, do the same thing and do a little more. … Maybe that will be the extra push, the extra inch that we can get to make it to the Super Bowl.”

New England has won two Super Bowls recently in the wake of a defeat in the NFL’s final four (2014, 2016) and Baltimore won one (2012). One other team, San Francisco in 2012, lost in the Super Bowl after having reached the conference championship a year earlier.

All four teams that won it all under those circumstances, including this season’s Chiefs, had at least two consecutive playoff appearances prior to their championship run. Kansas City, for example, lost in the divisional round twice in a row before it made the conference championship. Then it took the final step this year.

The 49ers reached the NFC Championship in 2011 after eight straight years without a postseason appearance and then got to the Super Bowl a year after that.

The Titans fall somewhere in between. They missed the playoffs in 2018 following an appearance in the divisional round in 2017. So, they have been on the path for some time but took a step back in 2018, when they failed to reach the postseason in their first season under coach Mike Vrabel. Each of their five playoff games over the past three seasons have been on the road.

“We have a long way to go,” Vrabel said. “We have to host some of those [playoff] games. We have to get to the point where we host them.”

Of course, getting as close as the Titans got this season does not mean they won’t take a step back in 2020. Of the 20 teams that lost in the conference championships from 2009-18, half (10, to be exact) missed the playoffs the following season. That group includes the 2017 Jacksonville Jaguars, who went 5-11 in 2017 and the 2009 Minnesota Vikings, who went 6-10 in 2010.

But having been there does provide a boost.

“There’s a lot of guys in this locker room when we were 2-4, they didn’t know that we had AFC Championship in our hearts,” safety Kenny Vaccaro said. “They didn’t know that we had the ability to do that. I think we gained that. … That’s big to me because – the belief – that’s the first step. If you don’t believe … you’re never going to make it.”

Now that they have been there, just getting back won’t be good enough.

“We didn't take advantage enough of the opportunity to go play for a Super Bowl,” Vrabel said. “We understand what the expectations are. That's the only way that I can try to measure our progress, is by success.”