So close and yet so far. That's been the story of the Tennessee Titans the last two years.
They've posted back-to-back 13-3 records for a two-year mark that is the best in the NFL during that span. Yet they still don't have a Super Bowl ring to show for it.
The Titans fell a yard short of sending Super Bowl XXXIV into overtime two years ago after making the big game as a wild-card team. Last season, they again won the AFC Central title and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Titans were just two home victories away from returning to the Super Bowl, but they lost their first-round playoff game to the Baltimore Ravens 24-10 when their offense scored on its first possession, then went into hibernation for the rest of the game.
The Titans have had the entire offseason to think about that defeat and they want to avenge it in 2001.
"I don't have to tell our players that we won our division, that we had the best record in football last season, and we didn't go anywhere at the end," head coach Jeff Fisher says.
The Titans may be the most motivated team in the league this season as they attempt to win the first Super Bowl in franchise history.
"A lot of us are bitter about it," tackle Fred Miller said during minicamp of the playoff loss. "I think it's on a lot of guys' minds."
The Titans made two major additions during the offseason that they think will put them over the top.
They replaced kicker Al Del Greco, who had several critical misses last season, with Joe Nedney, who made 34 of 38 field-goal attempts in Carolina and Denver. He also was booming 55-yarders in minicamp with his powerful left leg. That means he'll give the Titans more range than they had with Del Greco.
"We should pick up a few yards, it looks," Fisher says. "He'll be able to hit well outside of our previous range the last couple of years."
The other key move was the trade with St. Louis for defensive end Kevin Carter, who will more than offset the loss of Kenny Holmes to the Giants. Carter will combine with Jevon Kearse to give the Titans a pass-rushing combo that is being touted as the NFL's best since Philadelphia's Clyde Simmons and Reggie White combined for 33 sacks in 1992. Carter hopes to regain his 1999 form after seeing his sack total drop from 17 to 10½.
The big pass rush should more than compensate for the loss of cornerback Denard Walker, who signed with the Broncos, and strengthen a defense that ranked number one in the NFL last season. The Ravens' defense allowed fewer points and shut out four opponents, but it finished second to the Titans in yards allowed.
On offense, the key for the Titans will be the ability of quarterback Steve McNair and running back Eddie George to stay healthy.
McNair was bothered by an infection in his shoulder early in the offseason, but he was throwing in minicamp and should be ready to start the season. He will have better targets, especially if Kevin Dyson returns from last year's knee injury to complement Derrick Mason, Chris Sanders, and tight end Frank Wycheck.
George, who carried the ball 403 times last season, underwent surgery on a tendon in his big toe during the offseason. He wasn't ready to go in minicamp, but the Titans think he'll be ready to start the season.
If he's healthy, the Titans think they can run all the way to Super Bowl XXXVI.
2000 Record: 13-3
Coach: Jeff Fisher 61-46 (8th season)
2000 NFL Rankings
Offense: 14 (7 rush, 16 pass)
Defense: 1 (3 rush, 1 pass)