Remember the Titans? Actually, it was more important to the Titans that they simply remembered.
Photo by Charles Small
Titans linebacker Frank Chamberlin wraps up Jags running back Fred Taylor in Sunday's 23-14 Titans victory.
Sunday’s 23-14 victory that halted a four-game losing streak encompassed many elements of Tennessee’s winning formula from the 1999 and 2000 seasons and even came at the expense of their favorite whipping boys from back then – the Jacksonville Jaguars.
There was Eddie George running the football confidently for 113 yards behind an offensive line pushing defenders off the ball. There was an opportunistic defense, grabbing a pair of interceptions and holding the Jaguars to just 198 yards of total offense.
And most important, there was the look of a team that played with a determination to find a way to win.
It was a formula that brought them 26 wins and a Super Bowl appearance during that stretch, but for a variety of reasons, had been noticeably absent for most of the past year and a half.
But Sunday, it returned as the Titans rediscovered the secret of their success just before heading into next week’s bye week.
“We were able to pound the ball and keep it close and tire them out, kind of like what we used to do,” guard Zach Piller said.
“We just have to get back to our formula for success from the past, and that’s going out there, working hard and being a blue collar team,” tackle Fred Miller added. “Not saying that we didn’t work hard before, but you’ve got to give that extra.”
The first indication that things might be different Sunday came on the Jaguars’ first offensive series when cornerback Samari Rolle, not known as the fiercest of Titans’ hitters, leveled Jacksonville quarterback Mark Brunell as he was scrambling out of the pocket.
The hit landed Brunell not only out of bounds, but out of the game after the series as he suffered a concussion on the play.
“They didn’t call any penalty or throw any flag,” Rolle said. “As far as I know, it was nothing but a clean hit. People are always taking shots at our quarterback. That’s part of the game of football.”
“We had to start off physically, and our approach all week was just to play physical,” Titans coach Jeff Fisher said.
After the Jaguars punted the football to the Titans, Tennessee came out with a balanced mix of George’s running and Steve McNair spreading the ball around to his receivers.
George and the running game were a factor early, as he posted 28 rushing yards on the opening drive, a far cry from the 26 yards total he managed in each of the Titans’ past two games.
George credited padded practices Wednesday and Thursday with helping establish a dominant physical mindset.
“We hadn’t had a practice like that in a long time,” George said. “I think it allowed us to get back to who we are and establish a mindset that we’ve lost somewhere along the way in the fiascos of the past four or five weeks.”
George cashed in for the touchdown when he caught a Steve McNair rollout pass in the right corner of the end zone for an 8-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
With Brunell out of the game, it forced the Jaguars to put in untested rookie David Garrard at quarterback. Normally, backups and quarterbacks with a limited NFL pedigree have given the Titans fits. But Sunday was different as cornerback Andre Dyson stepped in front of Garrard’s first pass and put the Titans offense back in business at the Jaguar 16.
Joe Nedney knocked home the first of his three field goals, a 40-yarder, for a 10-0 Titans lead. A 52-yard George touchdown run was called back on the drive because of an illegal block by receiver Kevin Dyson.
The lead grew to 13-0 on Nedney’s 26-yard field goal. That drive, too, was short-circuited by a Piller tripping penalty that voided a would-be 20-yard TD pass from McNair to Justin McCareins.
The Jaguars then took advantage of Kevin Dyson’s fumble of a wide receiver screen recovered by Jason Craft at the Titans 20, as Garrard eventually scored from four yards out to cut the lead to 13-7.
Tennessee, however, regained its composure, and with the help of some fourth-down trickery with punter Craig Hentrich rushing for a five-yard gain while lined up under center on fourth down, got three more Nedney points on a 33-yard field goal just 18 seconds before halftime.
Nedney’s string of kicks ended on Tennessee’s first possession of the second half when his 32-yard attempt sailed wide right.
Later in the third quarter, the Titans suffered one of their few defensive breakdowns when Garrard escaped the pocket and rambled 41 yards for a touchdown where replay caught him sticking the football over the pylon just before stepping out of bounds.
“On the two touchdowns, they caught us in blitzes and he just made the plays,” linebacker Keith Bulluck explained.
So many times this season, the Titans had seen momentum changing plays go against them. But Sunday was different. Instead of folding after yielding a big play, the Titans answered with a decisive drive and a final turnover.
On their ensuing possession, the Titans used a mixture of George and the short passing game to march 68 yards in 14 plays, chewing 6:53 off the clock. The confident swagger that had been absent from the Titans’ huddle through the losing streak was replaced by a get-it-done attitude punctuated by George’s second-effort 1-yard plunge into the end zone on fourth-and-goal.
“I said, ‘Hey, I’m going to put forth all the effort to get this ball in this end zone, regardless of how I do it,’” George said. “They got a good surge, and I went over the top and we got in.”
Despite the nine-point lead, the Titans still had one final Jaguar fire to extinguish, and that came when safety Lance Schulters stepped in front of a Garrard pass intended for Jimmy Smith at the 6, picking it off to seal the outcome.
Now 2-4, the win gives the Titans a glimmer of hope heading into the bye week.
“We were looking at the Jacksonville game as the be-all, end-all of the season,” tight end Frank Wycheck said.
As for what the Jaguars were looking at Sunday, it seemed a lot like their old nemesis from days gone by.
“If you go back to 1999 and look at the game plan, there it is right there,” Jacksonville coach Tom Coughlin said. “That’s frustrating, too. They are going to have the good mix. They are going to run Eddie George; they’re going to roll McNair out.”
The Titans may have lost fullback Greg Comella for a while as he suffered a dislocated shoulder in the first quarter. Fisher said Comella may miss from two to four weeks.
Also, Wycheck suffered a neck sprain and guard Benji Olson had a mild knee sprain. George had a mild concussion as well.