In life, you need a little bit of luck, and football is said to be a game of inches. The Tennessee Titans have had experience with both this season, with five of their seven games decided by three points or fewer, and they've also had experience with both adages in playoff competition.
Former Titans wide receiver Kevin Dyson ended up seeing both sides of the coin during the 1999-2000 postseason.
Dyson caught a lateral pass from Frank Wycheck on a 75-yard kick return for a touchdown to beat the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Wild Card Round, which became the Music City Miracle. Three weeks later, with the game clock expiring, he was stretched out one yard short of keeping Tennessee's Super Bowl XXXIV hopes alive.
In the NFL, the window of championship opportunity can close quickly. And if any team deserved to have a Super Bowl hangover, it was the Titans after an emotional roller coaster in January 2000.
The fanbase will never forget how close it was to celebrating the ultimate victory. Yet the team had to move on and somehow bounce back.
In the following season, Tennessee seemed primed for another deep playoff run, finishing with an identical 13-3 record.
The Titans eyed unfinished business and were ready to face a nightmare that had been replaying in their minds. However, the team experienced a rude awakening in an AFC Divisional Round loss to the Baltimore Ravens, who advanced to win their first Super Bowl.
At this point, it seemed like cruel and unusual punishment. When would the football deities smile upon the Titans franchise again?
After a 7-9 finish in the 2001 campaign, the Titans returned to the playoffs and won the AFC South title in 2002—the first year of the division's existence after NFL owners approved realignment to accommodate the then-expansion Houston Texans.
Tennessee faced the Pittsburgh Steelers, an old AFC Central foe, in the AFC Divisional Round. Both teams built momentum going into the matchup with multiple-game winning streaks, but the Titans had a little more working in their favor.
The contest turned into a nail-biter with three lead changes in regulation. Through the first quarter, Tennessee scored 14 unanswered points, but Pittsburgh battled back and held a late 31-28 advantage in the fourth until kicker Joe Nedney tied the game with five minutes, 40 seconds remaining. With three seconds left, he missed a game-winning 48-yard field-goal attempt; the Titans needed extra time to learn their fate.
It took a few minutes of overtime to decide a winner, but the final sequence of events put the fanbase and head coach Jeff Fisher back on a wave of emotions.
Initially, Nedney made a 31-yard field goal, but the Steelers had called a timeout prior to the snap, making the points no good. Nedney then missed wide right on his second attempt, and it seemed playoff misfortune had struck the Titans again. That was until the referees flagged Steelers defensive back Dewayne Washington for running into the kicker, resulting in a five-yard penalty.
Nedney then split the uprights at the 26-yard line to win the contest, which brought a huge sigh of relief. At that moment, the Titans won their first playoff game in nearly three years.
It took some inches, carelessness on the Steelers' behalf and an attentive referee, but Tennessee broke through a postseason funk.
The fanbase will never forget the loss to the Rams at the Georgia Dome in Super Bowl XXXIV, their first and only appearance in the big game to date. One yard could've changed so much in franchise history. What if Dyson broke off his route with a little more precision to create separation from Mike Jones?
After the AFC Divisional Round victory over Pittsburgh, Titans fans could point to some success in January and know the organization isn't destined to pay countless debts via playoff disappointments for cashing in on the Music City Miracle. It's one thing to lose to a better squad, but it's another when unforeseen occurrences happen to a team's benefit in a tight contest.
Knocking off the Steelers in the divisional round doesn't measure up to a Super Bowl victory, but the Titans re-established themselves as contenders in the postseason—not just a one-and-done or a squad still picking up the pieces from a missed opportunity.
In a game of inches, the tide rolled back in the Titans' favor. Although it's not considered a miracle, a penalty after a missed field goal to set up another game-winning kick sounds like a bit of good luck.