Context, setting make for a nervous Nashville


Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Nashville is nervous.

While the Titans talk of their ill-fated divisional round matchup with the Ravens on Jan. 7, 2001 as ancient history, a good share of their fans can't help but relive it this week.

The 2000 Titans had the best record in the NFL regular season, were the No. 1 AFC seed and hosted wild-card Baltimore on the second weekend of the playoffs, just as the 2008 Titans are preparing to do. Eight years ago that recipe resulted in a drastic and deflating defeat, ending a season that was supposed to conclude with a second consecutive Super Bowl appearance.

"It hurt more than losing the Super Bowl the year before that, just because we knew whoever won that game would probably win the Super Bowl," said cornerback Samari Rolle, then with the Titans, now with the Ravens.

Only three players are left from that Titans team: punter Craig Hentrich, linebacker Keith Bulluck and defensive end Jevon Kearse, who left for four seasons and returned to Tennessee this year. Two others who were part of the loss, Rolle and receiver Derrick Mason, are now with Baltimore and the Ravens still have linebacker Ray Lewis and kicker Matt Stover.

"I think this city might still be living in the past just because of that 2000 season," said Bulluck, who was a special-teamer and the team's fourth linebacker then and is a defensive mainstay and captain now. "To me and this team, it has nothing to do with anything. We're not getting caught up in it as a team, that's what's important."

Yes, the Titans avenged that loss a bit with a wild-card win in Baltimore on Jan. 3, 2003, but it didn't have the same stakes, context or -- most important -- setting.

Can Bulluck understand how a lot of people pulling for the Titans of Steve McNair and Eddie George and Frank Wycheck, fans who watched the Titans hold the ball for more than 40 minutes, earn 23 first downs to the Ravens' six and outgain the visitors by 183 yards, still carry that loss with them?

"I do, I do," he said. "But I can't be concerned with that. My whole concern is us being prepared to play. I'd say to them, 'Sit back, enjoy the game on Saturday.' "

Tight end Bo Scaife celebrated his 20th birthday the day before that Titans-Ravens game. He was a redshirt sophomore at Texas that year. Still, as a relatively new Nashvillian, he's got a sense of what many fans are feeling and wants to talk people down, pointing to Tennessee's 13-10 win in Baltimore on Oct. 5.

"I hope they're not nervous," he said. "They should look at the most recent game we played against them, in 2008. The past is the past. The past might scare people. But no one in this locker room is worried about that, no one in this organization is worried about that or thinking about it. We can't control that.

"Steve ain't on this team, Eddie ain't on this team, Frank ain't on this team. It's a whole new team just like it's a whole new team for Baltimore too. It's a whole new team, hopefully it'll be a whole new result."

Al Del Greco also isn't on this team, and he was a major goat in the 24-10 loss -- he had a 45-yard field goal blocked, clanged a 31-yarder off the left upright and had a 37-yard field goal blocked and returned for 90-yard touchdown that broke a 10-10 deadlock early in the fourth quarter. A Lewis interception, stolen right out of arms of George and returned for a 50-yard touchdown, was the final dagger.

In what looks to be another defensive struggle, one big or bad special-teams play or one key turnover could dictate the result again.

Hentrich said it's the playoffs more than the Ravens that make for an uneasy week.

"It's a nervous week no matter who we play, not just because it's Baltimore," he said. "This city's been pretty spoiled this year, we've won a lot at home and any time you play a defense like Baltimore or Pittsburgh, you're nervous because anything can happen."

Kearse is in the minority, but said on some level he does see the game as an opportunity for payback.

As for the city with its hopes set on an entry in Super Bowl XLIII, in Tampa, Fla., just as it was eight years ago when the Titans lost out to the Ravens.

"Half [of Nashville] is kind of afraid, the other half is like, 'It's time for payback,'" Kearse said. "They're doing the same thing that they did that year and so far we are doing the same thing we did that year. It's all a matter of just making some new history.

"If they're afraid? Just chill out. We've got this, we're ready for it ... It's all a matter of what happens now, not what happened in the past."