This season, whenever I believe a team is eliminated from the playoffs, thus making their season (and decade) over, I will write their obituary.
Today I present to you the Tennessee Titans of the 00's.
Ending the 1999 season with a loss in Super Bowl XXXIV, Jeff Fisher and the Titans entered the 2000 season with hopes of winning the franchise's first championship. The team had plenty of young stars, including QB Steve McNair, RB Eddie George, DE Jevon Kearse, and WR Derrick Mason. The team also had Frank Wycheck, an elite veteran Tight End, and Bruce Matthews, the best Center in the league.
Week 1 of the 2000 season began with a loss to the Buffalo Bills in a "Music City Miracle" rematch, but the Titans quickly pulled themselves together, hammering out an 8 game winning streak en route to a 13-3 record.
Entering the 2000 playoffs the Titans looked like big time favorites to return to the Super Bowl. They had a first round bye, and home field throughout the AFC playoffs. Unfortunately for the Titans, they were one and done, after being ousted by the eventual Super Bowl champion Ravens.
The 2001 Titans fell off quickly from 2001, falling to 7-9. Franchise work-horse Eddie George had a bad fall off, picking up only 939 yards in 315 carries, barely topping an average of 3 yards per carry.
In 2002 the league realigned, and the Titans landed in the AFC South with the expansion Houston Texans, rebuilding Jacksonville Jaguars, and defensively challenged Indianapolis Colts. The Titans took advantage of their division and finished 11-5, earning themselves a first round bye.
The Titans capitalized on their home field advantage against the Steelers, winning in overtime, and earning the team a return to the Conference Championship game. In the AFC Championship game, the Titans were unable to slow down Oakland's high powered offense, and their season ended in a brutal 41-24 loss in Oakland.
In 2003, everything finally came together for Titans quarterback, Steve McNair. McNair finished the season with a 24 to 7 TD to INT ratio, and 4 rushing TD's, earning himself a share of the leagues MVP trophy, which he split with Peyton Manning, the Quarterback for the division rival Indianapolis Colts. Unfortunately for the Titans, Manning and the Colts also won the division that season, forcing the 12-4 Titans to begin the playoffs on the road in Baltimore.
The Titans would get their revenge from the 2000 playoffs on the Ravens that wild card weekend, topping Baltimore 20-17. The next week, for the third time in four years the Titans season ended with a loss to the eventual AFC Champs, this time at the hands of the New England Patriots in a 17-14 struggle. The Patriots would go on to beat the Colts and Panthers en route to a Super Bowl championship.
In 2004 the Titans fell off. Peyton Manning and the Colts had completely taken over the AFC South, Steve McNair had gotten injured, and Eddie George left Tennessee for Dallas. The Billy Volek lead Titans would win only 5 games that season, and the Titans looked like they'd be headed for a multi year slump.
In the 2005 NFL Draft, the Titans selected Pacman Jones, a defensive back out of West Virginia with the 6th overall pick. Jones would continually get into trouble off the field, eventually forcing the Titans to cut ties with him.
The 2005 Titans reflected the career of Pacman Jones in a lot of ways. They had some talent, but they lacked focus, and overall their play was abysmal. McNair showed signs that his better days were behind him. Running back Chris Brown who had a decent 2004, had a less than stellar season, and the teams receivers struggled to separate against even the weakest of defensive backs.
Fortunately for the Titans some young players began to develop in 2005, mostly on the defensive side of the ball. DT Albert Haynesworth, DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, and LB Keith Bulluck, all under 30, showed signs of future dominance.
After the 2005 season Steve McNair left Tennessee to head to Baltimore, replacing him with veteran QB Kerry Collins, and #3 overall draft pick, Vince Young, a highly touted QB out of the University of Texas. The team also drafted RB LenDale White out of USC in the second round.
After a slow start under Collins, the 2006 Titans switched QB's and went with Rookie Vince Young. Young would go on to pick up an 8-5 record as a starter, earn the Rookie of the Year award, and a spot in the Pro Bowl. A strong running game from Travis Henry, along with Young's quick legs, helped the titans pick up over 2,000 team rushing yards in 06, getting the team over .500 for the first time since 03, and setting the table for a 2007 Titans team that could make a playoff run.
The 2007 Titans improved 2 games, earning Fisher and his team a return to the playoffs. Young would start 15 games this season, earning a 9-6 record, but critics began to come out on Young who had a 9 to 17 TD to interception ratio. And though the Titans defense continued to dominate opposing offenses, the Titans offensive woes were too much to overcome, and the team lost 17-6 to the San Diego Chargers in the first round of the 2007 AFC Playoffs.
No one knew what to expect from the 2008 Titans, but after a week 1 win against the Jaguars, Vince Young pretty much imploded. The Titans made the move back to Collins and rung off 9 consecutive wins until losing to Brett Favre and the Jets. The team would finish 13-3 and recapture the AFC South crown from the Colts, who had won every season from 2003 to 2007.
The Titans entered the 2008 playoffs with the best record in the league. Kerry Collins, though far from explosive, played mistake-free football, and rookie Chris Johnson picked up 1,228 yards and a 4.9 YPC. The Titans hosted the Ravens in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs, and for the third time in the decade, one team was going to send the other home. For the third time in the decade, the road team won. Once again a promising season for the Titans was ended by a rogue Ravens squad.
On July 4, 2009, Steve McNair was murdered. The Titans family reached out and mourned the loss, which especially effected QB Vince Young, who considered McNair a mentor. The loss of McNair seemingly fueled Young to regain his love for the sport.
No one knew what to expect from the 2009 Titans. Would they pick up where they left off and dominate opposing offenses while controlling the ball? Would they resort back to the 2005 Titans? Could Collins cut it as a QB still? Should they go back to Vince Young? After an 0-4 start, on Sunday Night Football, in front of a national audience, the Colts took back their AFC South crown, essentially ending the Titans decade.
The Titans of the 00's will be remembered as the franchises first full decade as the Titans, and the franchises first full decade in Tennessee. Jeff Fisher, though without a championship, is one of only two coaches to stay with his team the entirety of the decade.
While the end to the 00's may not be what the Titans had hoped for, there's no reason for fans to be worried about next decade. They have the pieces in place to compete again very soon.
MVP of the Decade: Steve McNair
Notable Players: Eddie George, Steve McNair, Abert Haynesworth, Rob Bironas, Vince Young, Derrick Mason, Bruce Matthews, Frank Wycheck, Kevin Mawae, Kerry Collins, Chris Johnson, LenDale White, Travis Henry, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Michael Roos, Chris Hope, Cortland Finnegan, Craig Hentrich, Keith Bulluck, Jevon Kearse
Throwback Jersey That Will Be Cool in 15 Years: 2000 Jevon Kearse