The Tennessee Titans can look back at 2008 and see the unfinished business that was last season when a league-best 13-3 record and No. 1 playoff seed went by the wayside with a loss to Baltimore.
On Thursday night in Pittsburgh, they will find themselves face-to-face with the team that finished their business — the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers.
And while the Titans bested the Steelers in a December regular season game that year, they never got a chance at a rematch in the AFC Championship Game as the team fumbled away its fortunes against the Ravens.
But the 2009 edition of the Titans say there is no real use in playing the redemption card to avenge what they fell short of accomplishing a year ago.
“That’s dead and gone. You take your hat off to them. They won the whole thing last year,” Titans quarterback Kerry Collins said. “That was last year, and they’re saying the same thing. Last year is last year, and you move one and focus on what you want 2009 to bring.”
Defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch admits that last year still stings, and that the Titans are facing a big test from the get-go in ’09, but says things must be kept in proper perspective, even on the national stage of Thursday night.
“Nothing is going to redeem what happened last year. Even if we go to the playoffs and play well in the playoffs this year, it doesn’t erase what happened last year,” Vanden Bosch said. “It’s a big game and it’s a big test, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s one of 16. The important thing is that no matter who the team is or what the situation, that we get off to a fast start and play well.”
Speaking of playing in a national game, the Titans are relishing the thought of being in primetime to kick off the season against the reigning world champions. Veteran linebacker Keith Bulluck says the Steelers have something the Titans want — a championship, a half dozen of them in fact.
“We’re a contender, so why not go against the team that won the championship last, the Pittsburgh Steelers. We would like to do something that that organization has done six times previous,” he said. "That’s kind of what we’re looking to do in our overall season, but first things first is the challenge we have on Thursday.”
While a victory Thursday night might not exact revenge for what was lost a year ago, it still can be a healing proposition in some ways for the Titans, who endure the bitter ending in the playoffs a year ago.
Former Steeler Chris Hope acknowledges that there definitely was something lost in not getting to face the Steelers again in the postseason.
“That's how we feel as a team. We just didn’t have the opportunity to compete for it,” he said. “If we would've had a chance to play them again in the AFC Championship Game and those guys would have beat us, it would have been a little easier to swallow, being as we would have played them again and them going on to be Super Bowl champs. But we never had the chance to compete and play for the Super Bowl, so it left a bad taste in our mouth.”
Receiver Nate Washington, who spent last year with the Steelers before coming over to the Titans as an unrestricted free agent in March, saw the hunger and sense of unfinished business from the moment he arrived in Tennessee.
“I felt that the first day I walked in. I didn’t know a lot of the guys when I first got here, but the conversations I did have with them, they said, ‘You know, we came up short last year, but we’re going to be all right this year,’” Washington said. “To hear those types of things from those guys, I knew immediately what they were focused on, and that was to get back to doing the good things they were doing last season and leaving the negative alone.”
That starts, say the Titans, by focusing on the present and future, not dwelling on any redemption for any what-if situation from a year ago.
“I just look at it personally as getting this season off on the right foot. Us beating Pittsburgh this year won’t have anything to do with the opportunity we could have had last year. It’s just getting started for a 1-0 season,” safety Vincent Fuller.