The Titans' magical season came to an end on a wet Sunday afternoon in Nashville. Tennessee needed four things to happen to make the playoffs, and three of them happened. The only one that didn't was a Titans' win over the Patriots. Tennessee needed help from Kansas City, Pittsburgh, and San Francisco, and all of them won. But the only game in the Titans' control was the one they couldn't control.
New England coach Bill Belichick unexpectedly left Tom Brady, and most other starters, in the game well into the fourth quarter, as the Patriots rolled to a 40-23 victory. The Pats outplayed the Titans on both sides of the ball and deserved to win.
Belichick did something in the fourth quarter that left me with mixed feelings, when he inserted Vinny Testaverde, to pad Testaverde's record. The 43-year old Vinny threw his first TD pass of the year to extend his record of seasons with a TD pass to 20 years.
I have mixed feelings because I'm happy for Testaverde, and glad that Belichick gave him the opportunity for a record. On the other hand, it smacks of running up the score.
Titans' LB Keith Bulluck agreed with the latter.
"I don't think that was really necessary," said Bulluck.
Yes, the Titans could have made the playoffs with a win, but they would have been rightly cast as pretenders, not contenders. Tennessee is still a few players away from being a quality team, as evidenced by embarrassing losses in the regular season to the Chargers, Cowboys, Jaguars (first meeting), and Patriots, who tallied 40, 45, 37, and 43 points on the scoreboard, respectfully.
New England jumped out to a 19-3 first half lead and maintained control. Two big touchdown plays, an 81-yard punt return by Pacman Jones, and a 28-yard scramble by Vince Young, narrowed the score to 26-23, but the Titans could get no closer than that.
Take out those two big plays, and it shows the difference in talent on both sides of the ball. New England methodically outperformed Tennessee more plays than not.
Congrats to the Patriots and to all the other teams in the playoffs. They're deserving. Maroney and Dillon combined for 140 yards rushing and Reche Caldwell caught four passes for 134 yards and a touchdown.
The Titans got a taste of becoming a good team and a playoff contender again. Kudos to them for some of their best games against quality opposition this year. Today was another story, though. The effort wasn't quite enough to overcome a better team.
I'm very encouraged with what I've seen this year, and believe the foundation is now in place to restore the Titans to their place as one of the best teams in the league.