This week's Throwback Thursday will have a much different feel to it. I regret starting things off last week with something negative that happened in Titans history, but there will be a lot of great memories that we go through as well. Today, we will look at one of the most memorable games at LP Field--the Titans' 31-14 victory over the Steelers, clinching the #1 seed in the 2008 playoffs, and home field advantage.
Context: There was a great deal of uncertainty headed into this game. After the Titans 10-0 start in 2008, they started to regress a little bit. Most recently, they had lost to the Texans on the road, losing their best player, Albert Haynesworth, in the process. Also, Kerry Collins was beginning to regress a bit too, after his scorching hot start to the year. That year, the Steelers got really hot in December and won some tough games against some tough teams. So, with two teams seemingly headed in two opposite directions headed into this game, there was a lot of uncertainty among the fanbase. After seemingly having the number 1 seed locked up weeks earlier, the Titans had to go toe to toe with the hottest team in the league in order to secure it.
The Main Event: There were a lot of extremely memorable plays in this fantastic game. However, one of the main things about this game that I will never be able to forget is the emergence of Jason Jones. As previously mentioned, Albert Haynesworth, the focal point of the defense was out with a knee injury for this crucial game. So, there were questions about how they'd be able to cover up that hole because, let's face it, Haynesworth's production in 2008 was irreplaceable. However, the entire defense stepped up to the challenge, especially Haynesworth's rookie understudy. The athletic Jones recorded 3.5 sacks and a 3 fumbles. Those are absolutely insane numbers for one game, especially for a rookie backup. Something else that I remember was Justin Gage's touchdown reception deep, beating the dynamic Troy Polamalu, who was just a step too late. LP field was on fire after that play. While there were very few times when there were ever questions about if the 2008 Titans could matchup with another team, this was one of them. After that play, they showed that they belonged, and there was a sense of "we're here" around the team. The play that busted things open was Chris Johnson's touchdown run on a 4th down in the 3rd quarter. The Titans were trailing 14-10, and were in Steelers' territory. However, after a big completion on a 3rd and very long, the Titans were facing a 4th and 1. While some will call Jeff Fisher conservative, he did not show it on this play. He knew that coming away with 3 simply would not do here. So, he dialed up an absolutely beautiful play. Kerry Collins faked a handoff to fullback Ahmard Hall, and pitched the ball out to Chris Johnson. The defense bit, and this left the elusive Johnson 1 on 1 against Ike Taylor in the open field. One quick juke left Taylor in the dust, and the rest was history. After the Titans took the lead, they never let it go. The final exclamation point was a Michael Griffin pick-6, putting the Titans up 31-14. This was the final score. The team also had some fun after the game. Keith Bulluck, Lendale White, and Bo Scaife were all seen on camera stomping on the terrible towel, which Steeler fans still believe to this day possesses some sort of magical powers. All in all, it was an incredibly fun game to watch, and the postgame theatrics fired fans up even more. It was a game that will not be forgotten. While the Titans have not won a playoff game since 2003, this really felt like a playoff game, so seeing the Titans come out on top was a wonderful feeling.
Significance: We can play the "what if" game all day with the aftermath of this game. Since the Titans won, they were forced to face the Ravens in the divisional round, who they lost to. The Ravens had a very tough defense, and the Titans barely escaped Baltimore with a win when they faced off earlier in the year. In hindsight, if they'd lost to Pittsburgh that day, they would have had to face the Chargers, who went 8-8 after starting 4-8 and barely squeaked into the playoffs due to an epic collapse by the Broncos in December. Now, I am not saying the Titans should have thrown this game. Instead, I am wondering if playoff seeding should be reassessed. If the Titans were able to continue to advance in the playoffs, teams likely would not have waited on Jim Schwartz to become available for head coaching positions. This would have allowed the unit to continue to build off of its success with chemistry in place, rather than starting things over with Chuck Cecil, who the defense regressed significantly under. Starting with Cecil, the Titans simply could not find an effective defensive coordinator, like Jim Schwartz was. They went from Cecil, to Jerry Gray, to Ray Horton, and are now onto Dick Lebeau. Jason Jones' emergence also had a long term ripple effect. With his performance came confidence among Titans brass that they had a solid replacement for Albert Haynesworth. They ended up not making a competitive offer for Haynesworth, who left for Washington. While he had an infamous remainder of his career, one can only imagine what he would have played like and what they defense would have looked like, had he stayed in Nashville, and continued to play for Jim Washburn. The defense has not been the same since his departure.
This was just a great day to be a Titans fan. Seeing the defensive linemen all over Ben Roethlisberger, and seeing such a huge win late in December was just an absolutely amazing feeling. This was the last, best, moment of one of my favorite Titans' seasons ever. This was a tough team with a lot of playmakers. It is a shame that they did not take things all the way to the Super Bowl, because I still believe to this day that they were the best team in the NFL that season. They proved it on this day in 2008.