Titans determined not to fall yard short this season
By Teresa M. Walker, Associated Press, 08/29/00
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Call it a case of the longest yard, or just coming up short. Eddie George sees it as unfinished business for the Tennessee Titans.
"We still have something left that we didn't accomplish last season. We're the defending AFC champions. That symbolizes that we have a ring that says we're AFC champions, not Super Bowl champs," George said.
"That's our goal now."
The Titans came oh, so close last season. Mike Jones stopped Titans receiver Kevin Dyson a yard short of the end zone as time expired to preserve the St. Louis Rams' 23-16 victory for the Super Bowl championship.
It would be easy for the Titans to get caught up in their franchise-best 16-4 record in 1999 or the fact they even reached the Super Bowl after five seasons out of the playoffs. Not likely.
"This team is very hungry," fullback Lorenzo Neal said. "We know it's going to be tough right off the bat, but this team's ready for the challenge. We're not going to let anybody sneak up on us, and we're not going to sneak up on anybody."
The Titans have room for improvement over last season, even with the Super Bowl berth.
Despite going 9-1 and beating Jacksonville three times, the Titans finished second in the AFC Central. They had little breathing room, with seven games decided by a total of 12 points.
Neither the offense (12th) nor the defense (17th) ranked among the NFL's best despite the presence of All-Pro end Jevon Kearse and a club-record 54 sacks.
"We have to try to be perfect, so I would expect this team to be better," coach Jeff Fisher said.
It won't be easy. The Titans open the season Sunday night at Buffalo in a rematch of their playoff victory that started their Super Bowl run.
Their newfound celebrity has them playing on Monday night three times, including a visit to Washington on Oct. 30 and the finale at home against Dallas on Christmas night.
The Titans have been very busy since losing to the Rams, and they think they are a better team than a year ago.
They replaced right tackle Jon Runyan (to Philadelphia) by signing Fred Miller away from St. Louis and still had money left over for new middle linebacker Randall Godfrey.
New offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger, hired after Les Steckel took the same job in Tampa Bay, has simplified passing routes. The Titans also signed receiver Carl Pickens a month ago as protection for injury-prone Yancey Thigpen.
Add to that a healthy Steve McNair for the first time in nearly two seasons, and the passing attack is showing signs of life not seen since the days of the run-and-shoot offense of the early 1990s.
That should take the pressure off George, who ran for 1,304 yards and a career-high 13 touchdowns last season.
"Now people have to contend with our passing game," McNair said.
Sacks and turnovers are what the Titans use to measure their defense, and they want even more this season. Kearse, the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year with a rookie-record 14.5 sacks, will have a chance to improve that total with the Titans planning to line him up almost everywhere on the field.
"He's bigger, faster, stronger than he was last year, and that's scary," defensive coordinator Gregg Williams said.
The linebacking corps is much quicker with Godfrey, who led Dallas with 143 tackles last season, flanked by veterans Eddie Robinson and Greg Favors.
Depth in the secondary is about the only concern after losing cornerback Donald Mitchell for the season to a torn knee ligament. But they still have Samari Rolle, Denard Walker and Dainon Sidney.
With George and Fisher signed to contract extensions this summer, the Titans could be playing for championships the next couple years. George will only say the best is yet to come.
"If we're fortunate enough to be in that situation again," he said, "we know what to do."