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More than magic

McNair, Titans rush into Super Bowl with win over Jags

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Posted: Sunday February 06, 2000 05:14 PM

  Derrick Mason Tennessee's special teams turned in another outstanding performance, including an 80-yard TD return by Derrick Mason. AP

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. ( -- The vagabond Tennessee Titans never felt so cozy on the road. And they're not through traveling yet.

Next stop: Super Bowl XXXIV in Atlanta against St. Louis.

America's wandering waifs, who have played in four stadiums in three cities in four seasons, upset the Jacksonville Jaguars 33-14 behind the scrambling of Steve McNair and a defense that forced six turnovers.

The Titans trailed 14-10 at the half but scored 16 points in about 4 1/2 minutes in the third quarter to pull away.

It's the first Super Bowl trip ever for the franchise that began in the old AFL in 1960.

"It's about time," said owner Bud Adams, who founded the franchise in Houston then moved it after the 1995 season when he couldn't get money for a new stadium.

"I'm getting pretty old. I didn't want to go to the Super Bowl in a wheelchair."

McNair almost had to use a wheelchair before the game. He spent much of the week wearing a boot to protect an injured toe and hid the pain as well as he could.

"At one point during the week he couldn't even touch his toe without it killing him," tight end Frank Wycheck said. "For him to go out and have the day he did is just unbelievable. He's a leader who leads by example and we follow him."

There was little pain in McNair's stats -- except to the Jags, who won 15 games this year and lost just three, all to the Titans.

McNair ran nine times for 91 yards, including a 49-yard scramble to set up one of his two 1-yard sneaks for touchdowns. He also had a 9-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter to Yancey Thigpen, who left in the second quarter with a broken toe. The Titans also lost safety Marcus Robertson with a broken ankle.

This was the third step in a long, strange trip to the Super Bowl for Tennessee.

The Titans won their first playoff game on the most improbable of plays -- a lateral by Wycheck on a kickoff return that Kevin Dyson took 75 yards for the winning touchdown against Buffalo with three seconds left.

Last week, Tennessee shut down Peyton Manning and the high-powered Colts and won 19-16 in Indianapolis.

And this week they continued their mastery over the Jags, who had the NFL's best regular-season record at 14-2 and crushed Miami 62-7 in their first playoff game last week.

Tennessee won Sunday as it has all season: a little offense, a lot of defense, and a big contribution from special teams. All of it turned during the 16-point spurt in 4 minutes, 28 seconds in the third quarter.

It began with a six-play, 76-yard drive that ended on the go-ahead touchdown on a sneak by McNair.

Forty-three of the yards came on penalties -- 15 on a roughing the passer call when McNair somehow ducked out of a 10-yard sack by Kevin Hardy, rolled left and completed a 15-yard pass to Eddie George.

"You can't play sloppy in a game like this and win," said Jacksonville tight end Kyle Brady, who caught a touchdown pass but fumbled twice.

Brady's first fumble came on the next sequence. Jason Fisk recovered at the Jaguars 35, then Wycheck returned the favor by fumbling back to the Jaguars.

Running Wild Click image for larger view.  

Two plays later, Fisk and Josh Evans sacked Mark Brunell in the end zone for a safety, and it was 19-14. It was the sixth safety this season for Tennessee and second in the playoffs, an NFL record.

It also set up seven more points: On the ensuing free kick, Derrick Mason, who earlier set up a score with a 44-yard kickoff return, went 80 yards for a TD to make it 26-14.

"It seemed like everything clicked and we took over the game then," Evans said.

Tennessee's trip to the Super Bowl next Sunday follows three straight 8-8 seasons, one in Houston, one in Memphis and the third and Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville. This year, in their new home at Adelphia Coliseum, they went 13-3 and qualified as a wild card, a game behind Jacksonville in the AFC Central even though they beat the Jaguars twice.

AFC Champions
Year  Result 
1960  Houston 24, Los Angeles 16 
1961  Houston 10, San Diego 3 
1962  Dallas 20, Houston 17, OT 
1963  San Diego 51, Boston 10 
1964  Buffalo 20, San Diego 7 
1965  Buffalo 23, San Diego 0 
1966  Kansas City 31, Buffalo 7 
1967  Oakland 40, Houston 7 
1968  New York Jets 27, Oakland 23 
1969  Kansas City 17, Oakland 7 
1970  Baltimore 27, Oakland 17 
1971  Miami 21, Baltimore 0 
1972  Miami 21, Pittsburgh 17 
1973  Miami 27, Oakland 10 
1974  Pittsburgh 24, Oakland 13 
1975  Pittsburgh 16, Oakland 10 
1976  Oakland 24, Pittsburgh 7 
1977  Denver 20, Oakland 17 
1978  Pittsburgh 34, Houston 5 
1979  Pittsburgh 27, Houston 13 
1980  Oakland 34, San Diego 27 
1981  Cincinnati 27, San Diego 7 
1982  Miami 14, New York Jets
1983  Los Angeles Raiders 30, Seattle 14 
1984  Miami 45, Pittsburgh 28 
1985  New England 31, Miami 14 
1986  Denver 23, Cleveland 20, OT 
1987  Denver 38, Cleveland 33 
1988  Cincinnati 21, Buffalo 10 
1989  Denver 37, Cleveland 21 
1990  Buffalo 51, Los Angeles Raiders 3 
1991  Buffalo 10, Denver 7 
1992  Buffalo 29, Miami 10 
1993  Buffalo 30, Kansas City 13 
1994  San Diego 17, Pittsburgh 13 
1995  Pittsburgh 20, Indianapolis 16 
1996  New England 20, Jacksonville 6 
1997  Denver 24, Pittsburgh 21 
1998  Denver 23, New York Jets 10 
1999  Tennessee 33, Jacksonville 14 
Note: This list includes AFL Championship Games from 1960 to 1969.

The Titans' success is especially remarkable considering how close they came to losing in the wild-card game against Buffalo.

"I never thought that it would happen -- reaching the Super Bowl," said Bruce Matthews, the 17-year veteran who has played his entire career with the Oilers-Titans and holds the record for most games played by an offensive lineman (264).

The win was sweet for all the veterans, who have played in empty stadiums before apathetic crowds and had played mediocre football for most of a decade.

"I kind of sold myself on the idea that it wasn't that important," Matthews said. "To watch other teams playing the championships and going to the Super Bowl every year, you build up a barrier more than anything. But it's nice."

The defeat was a huge disappointment for Jacksonville. While the Jaguars have made the playoffs in four straight years -- they missed them only as an expansion team in 1995 -- they now have lost twice in the AFC title game.

"I didn't expect this to happen," said coach Tom Coughlin, who was especially dismayed about McNair's escape act -- several times the quarterback seemed hopelessly trapped for a sack before escaping.

When someone asked Coughlin how this happened, he snapped back:

"When the quarterback comes out of it when he should be on his back. That's how it happens."

Jacksonville started strong, going 62 yards in five plays to score on a 7-yard pass from Brunell to Brady. But the Titans answered right back, going 51 yards in nine plays after Mason's 44-yard kickoff return to tie it on 9-yard pass to Thigpen.

Both teams threw interceptions in scoring position -- Fernando Bryant picked off a McNair pass on his 23 early in the second quarter.

The Jaguars then drove all the way to the Tennessee 6, but Robertson dived in front of Damon Jones to pick off a Brunell pass to end the threat.

Jacksonville scored on its next possession, another quick drive that emphasized the 1-2 ground punch. One play after Taylor gained 9 yards to set up a second-and-1, Stewart raced 33 yards to the end zone.

Al Del Greco capped the first half scoring with a 34-yard field goal after Reggie Barlow fumbled a punt and Steve Jackson recovered for the Titans. That made it 14-10.

Then came the deluge.

"They won the game and they deserve all the credit given to them," said defensive tackle Gary Walker, who joined Jacksonville as a free agent this season after wandering through Texas and Tennessee with the Titans.

"To go through what they've gone through -- to finally get a home -- they just deserve a lot of credit."

Related information
Titans confident of ability to win on road
Head games in the AFC Championship
Jaguars' Smith now among elite after earlier struggles
Contrasting styles makes NFC title game intriguing
Titans' Thigpen, Robertson suffer broken bones
Jaguars-Titans Scoring Summary
QB Mark Brunell says the Jaguars squandered opportunities. (186 K)
Titans coach Jeff Fisher believes the play of Steve McNair made the difference. (155 K)
Steve McNair doesn't care about big passing numbers. (207 K)
KR Derrick Mason says the Jaguars kick coverage was vulnerable. (136 K)
DB Blaine Bishop says the Titans defense had to play physical. (139 K)
Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin thinks McNair is essential to the Titans' success. (88 K)
Jevon Kearse says the Titans wanted to win more than the Jaguars. (57 K)
Eddie George says the Titans believed the Super Bowl was a realistic goal. (143 K)
LB Kevin Hardy says the Jaguars defense couldn't contain McNair. (74 K)
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