NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Stunned. Numb. Disappointed.
They were all emotions still being felt by the Tennessee Titans on Monday after squandering a chance to host the AFC championship for the first time, and knowing they had only themselves to blame.
"We had our opportunities, and we just didn't make the most of them," linebacker Keith Bulluck said after a team meeting.
Three turnovers, a botched fourth-down conversion and a missed field goal added up to a 13-10 divisional playoff loss to Baltimore on Saturday. That overshadows an NFL-best 13-3 record, a defense that ranked second in points allowed and a franchise-record 12 sacks allowed.
"To be part of the nucleus of that 13-3 team was fun, but it's empty because I'm one who knows it doesn't really matter what you do in the regular season," Bulluck said. "The whole goal is to get in the playoffs. We had our one-and-done, which is unfortunate. When you're there, that's why you have to make the most of it. You have to realize how important it is."
This is the second straight season that Tennessee has reached the playoffs only to lose that first game. A year ago, the Titans were the AFC's sixth seed and lost in San Diego. This time, they held the No. 1 seed and rolled up 391 yards on the Ravens, giving up just 211.
"This one's going to hurt for a while, and it needs to," said coach Jeff Fisher, whose postseason record is 5-6 with three early exits. "But, in time, this too shall pass, and we'll commit ourselves to having the best offseason program that we can and to improvement in every area."
The Titans have lots of work to do before starting that program in mid-March starting with trying to keep two-time All-Pro defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth from hitting free agency on Feb. 27 after a career-high 8 1/2 sacks. He won't come cheap. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz also had a second interview Monday in Detroit for the Lions' head coaching job.
The biggest offseason decision revolves around the quarterback position.
Kerry Collins, who went 12-3 after replacing Vince Young in the season opener, is a free agent. He said Monday he wants to be a starter and believes he has several more years left after posting the third-highest passer rating of his 14-year career. He was sacked just eight times and intercepted only seven.
Opportunity, not money, will influence his decision. Collins said he is comfortable retiring.
"I certainly have made my case known that I want to be here," Collins said. "If it works out, which I hope it does, I'll be ready to go. But it basically falls in their court. They've got to decide what they want to do."
Fisher said he thought the quarterback played his best game against the Ravens. Collins threw for 281 yards while being sacked only once with one interception.
"Kerry has one or two options, in my opinion," Fisher said. "He starts, and hopefully that's for us, or he's on his tractor at his farm."
The Titans still have Young under contract through 2011, and Fisher repeated that he has said Young still will be under center again eventually for this team. Young declined to return to the opener after being booed for an interception, then sprained his knee when he did and prompted a police search a day later when he left his home without his phone.
Fisher said Young needs to commit to spending time in Nashville and the offseason program and trying to take advantage of watching Collins.
"We expect 100 percent commitment from Vince and will accept nothing less than that," Fisher said.
Collins and Haynesworth are just two of the Titans about to become free agents, a group that also includes kicker Rob Bironas, punter Craig Hentrich, tight end and leading receiver Bo Scaife and nickelback Vincent Fuller. Hentrich just finished his 15th year and will be allowed to decide if he wants to return. Fisher said Bironas is in the league's top echelon of kickers.
Salary cap space won't be a problem for a team that reportedly has $35 million of room. But 2009 will be the last year under a cap with the current labor agreement, and Fisher said that will give free agency a "different complexion" with lots of time and work needed.
The Titans already have two All-Pros under contracts extended during 2008 in left tackle Michael Roos and cornerback Cortland Finnegan with right tackle David Stewart tied up as well.
Fisher said owner Bud Adams sees the team's improvement from 8-8 in 2006 to 13-3 now and is committed to allowing the team to do what's necessary.
"We don't have any financial issues as compared to some of the other clubs right now," Fisher said.