Mawae The Anchor In The Storm

Kevin Mawae

The Titans' offensive line has been a huge part of the team's dramatic turnaround this season, and veteran center Kevin Mawae has anchored the group just as the Titans envisioned when they brought in the free agent. Tennessee wanted a veteran to solidify it's offensive line and Mawae has been just that -- an anchor.

As Tennessee prepares for a regular season finale Sunday at LP Field against New England, the team knows a win won't be enough. The Titans need three other favorable results to get the AFC's last playoff spot.

Mawae will be reminding his teammates not to worry about the other games, over which they have no control.

"He's been a huge part of the system," offensive line coach Mike Munchak said. "Having a rookie quarterback (Vince Young), he is a perfect fit for that. (Mawae is) a natural leader. He's been in the league a long time and had a lot of success. He's very patient, very encouraging, not only to the quarterback but to the other young linemen.

"He's been a great example with his work ethic. ... He reminds me of when Bruce Matthews was here as far as the work ethic. He never gets down. When things were tough around here and we were struggling, trying to find a way to win a game, he was always upbeat. ... It's not phony. It's real."

Mawae played four years in Seattle before eight with the New York Jets and has started in 192 games.

While Titans right guard Benji Olson has started all but two games since 1999, the team's other three starters all have minimal experience in comparison: second-year left tackle Michael Roos has started 31 games, third-year left guard Jacob Bell has started 29 and second-year right guard David Stewart has started 13 games.

With the current line, which was set in place after Zach Piller suffered a season-ending ankle injury in the team's third game, the Titans have moved to fifth in the NFL in rushing yards per game, sixth in rushing average and 11th in sacks allowed per play.

Mawae makes the calls and adjustments for the group and said early on he caught himself once in a while using old lingo.

"There were times early in the season where I'd get caught in the middle of a game making a call and realize it was two systems ago, or whatever," he said. "That was where the patience with other guys came in and where we communicate and help each other out."

But his linemates quickly learned they can rely on the guy who always sprints the hardest on the short run that starts each practice.

"I can't think of any bad spots he's put us in right now," Roos said. "He's done a great job of making all the calls. Even in away games when it's loud, he's loud or pointing and making sure that everybody knows where they're going."

SERIES HISTORY: 38th meeting. The Patriots lead the series 20-16-1 and have won the last two. The teams met in a memorable playoff game after the 2003 season, with the Patriots pulling out a 17-14 victory at frigid Gillette Stadium.

NOTES:

Playoffs A Longshot:

Too much needs to line up for the Titans to secure the AFC's final playoff slot and New England could well be resting Tom Brady and others.

So Sunday's Titans-Patriots game in Nashville didn't get moved to late afternoon for TV, better yet the national game at night on NBC.

The Titans, who are riding a six-game win streak and stand at 8-7 after an 0-5 start, are just fine with that.

"We're best at noon," coach Jeff Fisher said. "That would also be the case on the road. I think we're better off with the least amount of attention that we get. Now the run and Vince (Young's) play and the play of the rest of his teammates has gotten some mention and it should.

"You start off like we did and win six straight, it is something to talk about. But we're still way below the rest of the teams in the league from that standpoint."

Odds are the Titans, who didn't have a primetime appearance this season, will be a primetime darling next season coming off a surprising season and with everyone anxious to see Young.

Tennessee's slim remaining hope for playing beyond Sunday's regular-season finale: beat the Patriots and get a Cincinnati loss or tie against Pittsburgh, a Denver loss against San Francisco and a Kansas City win against Jacksonville.

Cornering The Market:

--For the second consecutive week the Titans will get a first-hand look at a top cornerback heading for free agency, where they could be shopping at the position. Last week it was Buffalo's Nate Clements. This week it's New England's Asante Samuel.

"If they're playing man-to-man, he uses good technique and leverage and always knows where his help is," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said of Samuel.

Winning Makes Playing Easier

Coming to work has been a lot easier for the Titans over the last six weeks, since the team has returned to headquarters following a win.

"You just keep going," coach Jeff Fisher said. "It has been good. The guys have really worked hard and enjoyed the success. Each one of the wins the last six weeks has been completely different, but they're still wins."

By The Numbers:

6 -- Wins in a row for Tennessee. Only San Diego (9) carries a longer streak. Chicago and Philadelphia have each won four in a row.

They Said It:

"Accurate, great decision-maker, the key to the whole offense. He's the quintessential triggerman in the NFL. It all revolves around him." -- Titans defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

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