The Titans clinched the AFC's No. 1 seed Dec. 21. Less than three weeks later, a playoff loss to Baltimore has ended their season and left them grasping for answers.
Former Titan Derrick Mason caught five passes for 78 yards, including a 48-yard TD catch in Baltimore's win.
"Do you ever get over it? I don't know if this is something you ever get over," quarterback Kerry Collins said. "You deal with it, you put it in its place, but this one's going to hurt for a while."
The season's end ushers all sorts of emotions to the surface. The most prevalent Saturday included shock.
It was not the result that stunned theTitans, nor Matt Stover's 43-yard field goal that one the game for Baltimore. Rather, it was the manner in which they lost.
Baltimore gained 211 yards to Tennessee's 391. Baltimore gained 1.7 yards per carry to Tennessee's 4.1. Joe Flacco completed 11 passes to Collins' 26.
Three red zone turnovers, 12 penalties, a missed field goal and two failed fourth downs doomed Tennessee, which eventually drowned in its own quicksand.
After such a promising regular season that saw Tennessee start out 10-0 and win the AFC South for the first time since 2002, the Titans were left feeling like all was for naught.
"You think I feel good right now? This is a difficult loss for this team, the fans, and there was a great deal of hope and excitement," head coach Jeff Fisher said. "There's nothing I can tell them in that room that can make them feel better right now."
Trailing 10-7 in the fourth quarter, Alge Crumpler fumbled at Baltimore's 6 and safety Jim Leonhard recovered at the 1-yard line.
"It's probably the worst feeling I've had in my life because I understand the magnitude of what we've built here. When you lose possessions, especially being the cause of it, it's a feeling I don't know when I'll ever get rid of," said Crumpler, who hadn't lost a fumble since 2005. "The game's a blur right now. I've lost playoff games before, but it's the worst feeling I've had in my life."
Crumpler wasn't alone in his misery. Collins completed 75 percent of his passes in the first half, but threw an off-balance pass that Samari Rolle intercepted at the Baltimore 9. Later in the quarter, Leonhard recovered a LenDale White fumble at the Baltimore 15. White said after the game he blames himself for the team's loss.
"It just came down to missed opportunities," Collins said. "We had the opportunities and for whatever reason we didn't take advantage of them the way we needed to."
In the third quarter, Rob Bironas missed left on a 51-yard field goal attempt. That came after a successful Baltimore challenge of a Bo Scaife reception that would have shortened the try to 46 yards. Tennessee elected not to try a 47-yard field goal kicking the other direction in the first half.
Early, it appeared Chris Johnson would bust the vaunted Ravens' defense with a series of starts and stops that helped him pick up 100 total yards. But Johnson left the game in the second quarter with an ankle injury, leaving Collins without his top option.
Baltimore's defense had registered an NFL-high 26 interceptions in the regular season, led by unanimous All-Pro selection Ed Reed with nine. The Ravens intercepted Miami's Chad Pennington four times in a 27-9 win over the Dolphins last week. Yet Collins completed 26-of-42 passes for 281 yards, his second-best total of the season. Even without Johnson, Tennessee moved the ball. White registered 63 yards of total offense in the second half and the Titans managed six first downs in the fourth quarter.
"It's strange to end up with 10 points," Scaife said." We should have ended up with 31 points in my opinion, but we didn't, and we go home."
Tennessee boasted a plus-16 turnover differential entering Saturday's divisional game, but didn't force rookie quarterback Joe Flacco or any other Ravens player to turn over the football.
"I feel we did our job as a defense. The offense moved the ball. We just couldn't overcome turnovers. We didn't force any turnovers and we didn't overcome any," Keith Bulluck said. "We had three turnovers. We gave away at least nine points. ... I've been around football a long time and you can't as a team have those types of mistakes and expect to win, especially in the playoffs."
But Tennessee did expect to win, and talked Friday about making the 2008-09 Titans legendary. Several veterans have lost playoff games before, but felt like Tennessee (13-4) had a special team this year. But Flacco and the Ravens got 108 yards on three pass plays: a 48-yard touchdown to Derrick Mason on a blown coverage, a 37-yard completion to Mark Clayton in double coverage and a 23-yard completion to Todd Heap that set up the game-winning field goal.
"Besides that, we played a sound football game ... it makes it a lot tougher to take," Jevon Kearse said. "We did some pretty good things together all season, and for it to end like this is kind of heartbreaking. We had a chance and we didn't make the most of it."