Tennessee Titans in Search of Killer Instinct

Dave StanleyCorrespondent ISeptember 12, 2009

PITTSBURGH - SEPTEMBER 10:  Wide receiver Nate Washington #85 of the Tennessee Titans catches a pass then tackled by Deshea Townsend #26 of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the second quarter of the NFL season opener at Heinz Field on September 10, 2009 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

So much for peaking early.

After Thursday night's 13-10 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Tennessee Titans found themselves in relatively unfamiliar territory.  


In times like this, the old Nietzsche axiom-cum-cliché rings true.

"That which does not kill me, makes me stronger."

Basically, this is a good thing.  But more on that later.  First things first: the negatives.

For one thing, the Titans further perpetuated their reputation as not being able to finish and seal the deal.  Just like last year's early playoff exit at the hand of the Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee owned the game, statistically speaking.  

Consider the uncanny comparisons:

A.  They pretty much moved the ball at will against a vaunted defense.

B.  They effectively shut down the running game of a smash-mouth offense.

Just one small thing, however.  The final score, which was eerily the same.  

"The Pittsburgh Steelers didn't beat the Tennessee Titans," Titans receiver (and former Steeler) Nate Washington told the Associated Press after the game.  "The Tennessee Titans beat the Tennessee Titans."

A cleverly articulated summation of a knock-down, drag-out game, yes.  

But one that the Titans and their fans are growing weary of hearing.  

It is becoming blindingly obvious that Tennessee desperately needs to learn to go for the jugular in tight games and not merely rely on their opponent to make mistakes.

Being the better team doesn't translate into victory if, well, they don't play like the better team when it counts the most.  That includes not letting an unknown, lightly regarded wideout from the University of Mississippi (Mike Wallace) make the game-winning catch.  

In spite of the negatives, there is in fact quite the positive spin on this.

"I believe we've got a good team in that locker room," Jeff Fisher told the media after the game.  "And we're going to bounce back."

Here are a few reasons he just might be right.

Third Time's a Charm

Zero Super Bowl titles notwithstanding, the franchise does have a knack for bouncing back, historically.  It's a safe bet that back-to-back bitter losses to even more bitter rivals has strengthened their resolve, especially when viewed in light of the lofty expectations.  

Throw in an unproven New York Jets squad with some traditionally underachieving AFC South competition, and the Titans could easily find themselves at 3-1, dripping with confidence and swagger before they face two stout tests in Indianapolis and New England before their bye. 

Silver Linings

To go into a hostile Heinz Field environment and take the defending world champions to the wire all but refutes the "paper tiger" label.  Even with the loss, the Titans proved their mettle in the opener.  True, there is still work to be done in regards to execution and finishing, but it doesn't get much harder than it did in Pittsburgh.  

While Nate Washington's quote could easily be dismissed as the misguided ramblings of a sore loser, he does have a point.  This time around, there were no ready-made excuses; no "oh, but (Steelers defensive coordinator) Dick LeBeau used a vanilla defense."  

Both teams left it all on the field, with the outcome arguably being decided by the luck of a coin toss, given both teams' success through the air.

Granted, the loss of all pro safety Troy Polamalu was significant, but world champions find a way to adjust, and the Steelers' defense did, in fact, remain formidable.  

Two Out of Three Ain't Bad

Much has been made of Tennessee's tough schedule, with most experts and fans alike predicting a lower finish than last year.  Yet upon further review, the last two thirds of the season are actually quite manageable.  

After their Oct. 25 bye week, there is essentially nobody on the docket that the Titans can't theoretically handle.  While there is always the "any given Sunday" factor, on the whole, there shouldn't be too many surprises.  

While some teams pose more of a challenge than others, (Arizona, Indy and Miami come to mind), the AFC playoff race should be fun for Tennessee fans to watch come December.  Especially since the team will be presumably tested and seasoned by that point.

Actually, they just might already be. 

With one game down and 15 to go, there are literally millions of scenarios that could play out, rendering the pontifications of many a sports writers' diatribes null and moot.  

But at this point and juncture, Jeff Fisher just might be on to something with his trademark Oakley shades.

The future looks bright.