Titans open vs Pats, 1st meeting since 59-0 rout
Teresa M. Walker
AP SPORTS WRITER
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Chris Johnson has been looking forward to playing New England for weeks - and the 59-0 pounding the Patriots handed the Titans on a snowy day in October 2009 has nothing to do with his motivation.
"It's got nothing to do with the 59-0 game to me ...,'' Johnson said. "Everything is focused on the regular season, so pretty much getting my whole mindset for the regular season right now.''
Johnson is trying to bounce back from his worse season as a pro. On Oct. 18, 2009, Johnson was one of a few bright spots on that bleak Sunday, keeping his chase for 2,000 yards rushing on pace with 128. The loss marked the sixth straight loss to open the season for Tennessee and the beginning of the end for Jeff Fisher, who lasted only one more season.
Now Mike Munchak is the coach, and only 20 players remain from the largest loss since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970 and the worst loss in this franchise's history.
Some block it out, others have painful memories of touchdowns and snow. Tight end Jared Cook, just a rookie then, was asked Monday how he could forget that day.
"That was a feeling of shame at the end of that game,'' Cook said quietly. "It was horrible. We definitely don't want to feel that way again. We definitely have to play better than three years ago. It's a different team. We have a different mentality.
"We're going out and trying to re-stake our claim and make some things happen this year.''
For receiver Nate Washington, it was the unexpected snow on an autumn day that came down so thick they had trouble seeing. But Washington agrees with Cook that these Titans are a different team.
"We're going to make sure we go out this week and make sure we take care of everything we have to on Sunday,'' Washington said.
Plenty has changed for the Titans since that day.
Munchak was offensive line coach and now is the head coach with Fisher and the Titans parting ways in January 2011. Starting quarterback Kerry Collins has retired, while Vince Young, who got the starting job back after that loss, was cut in July 2011 and has been with two teams since. Jake Locker makes his first regular season start Sunday with Matt Hasselbeck his backup.
Munchak said he hasn't thought much of that game, though he credited the loss with waking up the Titans who turned something "real ugly'' into an 8-2 finish that season.
"It was one of those days that everything that could go wrong went wrong,'' Munchak said.
It got ugly in a hurry.
Tom Brady set an NFL record by throwing five of his six touchdown passes in one quarter, and his six TDs matched his own team record. The Patriots led 45-0 for the biggest halftime lead in league history. And the 59-point margin matched the largest since the merger, a 59-0 win by the Los Angeles Rams over the Atlanta Falcons.
All with the added touch of snow.
"I think we were all a little surprised by the elements that day,'' Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Monday.
Jason McCourty started as a rookie cornerback for Tennessee with Cortland Finnegan, now in St. Louis, out with an injury. First, McCourty says he has no memories of a day the Patriots set a club record with 619 yards offense. Then it becomes obvious the game left a mark that won't go away.
"That's just something that's going to be in the back of our minds,'' McCourty said. "It's a little extra motivation.''
The Titans have their own goals for 2012 coming off a season where they went 9-7 in Munchak's debut as head coach. They are fully aware of the challenge they face now in the Patriots, the team with a 123-37 record that is the NFL's best over the past decade. Brady remains just as dangerous as he did in 2009.
"We see him do that to so many different teams in so many games at the big stage,'' McCourty said of Brady. "Going against him is going to take a lot of work, a lot of preparation and just to be able to go against not only him but some of those offensive weapons is going to be tough.''
Munchak can always turn to that game tape if he needs to remind his Titans of the importance of preparation.
"That's a good lesson any weekend if you're not on top of your game that it could get ugly fast, especially when you're playing against a team and a quarterback that has been the best in the AFC for quite a few years,'' Munchak said.
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