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'A lot of work to do'

Titans have key personnel decisions to make in offseason

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Posted: Monday January 08, 2001 6:08 PM
Updated: Tuesday January 09, 2001 5:53 PM

  Eddie George Eddie George rushed 27 times for 91 yards against the Ravens and scored the Titans' only touchdown. AP

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- The Tennessee Titans didn't think that anything could hurt worse than coming up a yard short in the Super Bowl. Then the AFC champions failed to even defend the one title they did win.

The NFL's best record and home-field advantage didn't help the Titans, who wanted to become the first AFC team since the 1971 and 1972 Miami Dolphins to rebound from a Super Bowl loss to an NFL championship.

The Titans had the script written perfectly -- until Sunday. Then their dreams dissolved in a 24-10 divisional playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

"It's always harder to go back the second time around," quarterback Steve McNair said Monday. "A lot of guys didn't realize that until yesterday. With a little incentive, that'll help us get better for next year."

But the Titans, who have won more regular season games the past two years than any other team, couldn't start mourning what could have been until the shock wore off.

"The thing about losing in the playoffs is you don't prepare for it," 18-year veteran offensive lineman Bruce Matthews said. "The Super Bowl you knew that was it, that was the game. Win or lose it's over. That's the positive into making the Super Bowl."

Coach Jeff Fisher said the Titans' potential this season made losing that much harder to take.

"I believe we had a very good chance to be the best team in the league this year, and now we won't ever know," he said.

The Titans, who lost to St. Louis in the Super Bowl a year ago when their last play ended 1 yard short of a possible tie, have only themselves to blame.

The team that won 26 games the past two seasons led the NFL in time of possession and had the league's top-rated defense. All-Pro running back Eddie George had his best season yet, and they were playing at home in a place where they had lost only once in 17 games.

But an old weakness surfaced against the Ravens -- settling for field goals instead of touchdowns.

A team that dominated the Ravens everywhere but on the scoreboard reached the end zone only once on four trips inside the Baltimore 30. Three drives ended when Al Del Greco, one of the NFL's best kickers, bounced a short attempt off an upright and had two others blocked with one returned for a touchdown.

The Titans settled for almost as many field goals as touchdowns in the regular season where their three losses came by a total of seven points.

McNair said that won't work, and he wants enough changes in the offense made during the offseason to fix the problem.

"In order for us to be a dominant team in the National Football League, we have to score at will and be consistent," he said.

Still, the Titans think everything is ready for another run at the Super Bowl.

"I think we're at our peak and hopefully, we'll continue to improve," president Jeff Diamond said. "I don't see the window closing at all as long as we continue to draft well and replace some of our veterans."

The Titans signed Fisher and George to new contracts last summer, and one of the top priorities now will be to sign McNair and All-Pro cornerback Samari Rolle to new deals.

Tennessee has to trim about $10 million to get under the salary cap by March, and that means veteran receivers Yancey Thigpen and Carl Pickens may be cut or have to renegotiate contracts that would pay them more than $10 million together in 2001. The duo combined for only 25 catches this season.

They will need some of that money to keep unrestricted free agent Derrick Mason. The fourth-year receiver set an NFL record for all-purpose yards, was named All-Pro at kick returner and became McNair's favorite target at receiver.

That means defensive end Kenny Holmes and cornerback Denard Walker may be gone. Holmes, who had a career-high eight sacks this season, packed up some old clothes Monday and gathered teammates' autographs on jerseys.

"It's going to be a tough decision on their part," Holmes said.

Other questions include defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who may be interviewed for head coach of the expansion Houston Texans. And Del Greco should face competition in training camp for the first time in years.

"We know we've got a lot of work to do," Diamond said.

Related information
Ravens advance to AFC title game with 24-10 win
Closer Look: Touchdown returns difference-maker for Ravens
Notebook: Modell one step closer to a Super dream
What We Learned: Ravens-Titans
SI's Banks: Ravens taking it personally
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