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Strange phenomenon

Titans will concentrate on falling on the ball

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Posted: Tuesday January 02, 2001 9:37 PM
Updated: Wednesday January 03, 2001 11:53 PM

  Anthony Wright, Randall Godfrey Titans linebacker Randall Godfrey forced Cowboys quarterback Anthony Wright to fumble twice in their Christmas Day meeting. AP

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- The Tennessee Titans have a problem with the bouncing ball.

Only the Baltimore Ravens forced more fumbles than the defending AFC champions this season, but the Titans recovered just 13 of their 39 forced fumbles. In their two games with the Ravens, it was even worse as the Titans didn't recover any of Baltimore's 12 fumbles.

The Titans think their time may come Sunday when they play the Ravens in an AFC divisional playoff game.

"We're due to have two, three, maybe even four this game," defensive end Kenny Holmes said. "Anytime we play these guys the emphasis is getting the ball out and recovering it. Now, it's going to be even more so."

Linebacker Randall Godfrey, who forced two fumbles and recovered another in the Titans' season-ending victory against the Dallas Cowboys, said the key is simply getting more people around the ball.

"We're a hustling defense now," he said. "For them to have 12 fumbles ..., we've got to get four or five people around the ball every tackle, and those turnovers will start coming to us."

The Titans (13-3) better hope so. They are the only team still in the playoffs without a positive turnover margin during the regular season. The Titans lost the ball 30 times through interceptions and lost fumbles and collected 30 takeaways.

Injury Report
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Tennessee Titans quarterback Steve McNair took most of the work in practice Wednesday, while left guard Bruce Matthews was listed as questionable for Sunday's AFC divisional playoff game with a case of turf toe.

Matthews jogged lightly, and coach Jeff Fisher said the 18-year veteran is feeling better. But he didn't predict whether the All-Pro lineman will practice Thursday.

The Titans pulled linebacker Randall Godfrey from practice due to a slight groin strain that stiffened up. They also held out free safety Marcus Robertson, who practiced Tuesday for the first time in nearly five weeks, due to recurring soreness in his shin. 

Baltimore led the league with a plus-23 margin.

Two playoff teams had a takeaway-giveaway rate worse than the Titans. The St. Louis Rams (minus 10) and the Indianapolis Colts (minus 8) both lost their wildcard games last weekend.

Last season, the Titans had 40 takeaways. Defensive tackle John Thornton said a lot of what has happened this season has been luck.

"Last year we got those balls. This year we're not getting it. As long as we keep getting [the balls] on the ground, we're going to get them," Thornton said.

One play in the Ravens' 24-23 victory against the Titans on Nov. 12 sums up how the Titans have struggled to grab the fumbled ball this season. Running back Jamal Lewis broke loose on a run, and Godfrey poked the ball out as he tackled him. Even though he was outnumbered by Tennessee defenders, Lewis still grabbed the ball back as he hit the ground.

"It's really strange," Thornton said. "Against Dallas we had three or four of them on the ground and an offensive lineman standing around being lazy will wind up getting it. We've got to keep fighting."

Titans head coach Jeff Fisher has driven that loathsome statistic -- 12 fumbles with no recoveries -- into his players' heads, and he doesn't expect anything to get any easier Sunday because he knows Baltimore head coach Brian Billick is demanding that his Ravens protect the football just as Fisher has done.

"Both teams go after the football. Unfortunately, we were unable to get it back," Fisher said. "We have to do what we've been doing -- knock it loose. And they'll do the exact opposite I'm sure."

Related information
Billick says Titans are toughest challenge left's John Donovan: Blood and elbows
SI's Jack McCallum: The Hot Button: The Untouchables's Burning Questions: NFL Divisional Playoffs
Wild-card overnight ratings down for three of four games
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