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Cats on a hot tin roof

Bengals claw back from big deficit, then lose in last-minute

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Posted: Sunday September 12, 1999 07:50 PM

  The magic number: No. 3, Al Del Greco kicked a 33-yard field goal for the victory in the final seconds. AP

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Playing in a new stadium with a new nickname, the Tennessee Titans treated their fickle fans to a last-minute victory in their season opener.

Al Del Greco kicked a 33-yard field goal with 8 seconds left as the Titans rallied with 10 points in the final minutes for a 36-35 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday in the first game at the $292 million Adelphia Coliseum.

The Titans, formerly the Oilers, took their fans through a gamut of emotions from boos to a standing ovation as they blew a 26-7 first-half lead with four turnovers before playing catchup with 10 points in the fourth quarter. Steve McNair, booed after fumbling away the ball with 9:26 left, came back to lead the rally.

"That gave me even more motivation to go out and get the job done," said McNair, who finished 21-of-32 for 341 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. "I don't understand it ... but the team surrounded me and said `Don't worry.' And we came out on top. That's what counts."

The booing upset his teammates.

"The guy was having a great game," tight end Frank Wycheck said. "I don't know how they justified booing a player like that. He was playing his heart out. It baffles me."

Cincinnati's Jeff Blake nearly ruined the Titans' homecoming singlehandedly. He ran for 90 yards and threw for 182 yards and two touchdowns before being forced from the game with heat exhaustion and cramps.

That forced rookie Akili Smith, who held out for most of training camp, into the game. He finished off two drives started by Blake with simple handoffs as Cincinnati settled for field goals of 33 and 38 yards by Doug Pelfrey for a 35-26 lead with 7:56 remaining.

"It was very tough for me to come out when I did," said Blake. "I didn't take it very well. ... But there was nothing I could do about it. If you can't move, you can't move."

McNair, who twisted his ankle the drive before, led the Titans back on the field to a chorus of boos, and he responded with a scramble for 9 yards. He capped the drive by tossing a short pass to Eddie George who ran 17 yards for a touchdown, pulling Tennessee to 35-33.

Cincinnati turned to emergency quarterback Scott Covington, but he failed to get a first down as the Titans defense forced the Bengals to punt after a three-and-out.

"He had 27 more practices than Akili did," Cincinnati coach Bruce Coslet said.

McNair took over with the ball at the Cincinnati 49 after a 21-yard punt return by Yancey Thigpen, and he threw three passes and ran twice in setting up Del Greco's game-winner, the 13th of his career. McNair wound up 21-of-32 for 341 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.

Smith had a last chance in the final eight seconds. He found Tony McGhee to get the Bengals to midfield, and he threw the ball into the end zone only to see it fall incomplete.

"We had so many chances to win," Coslet said. "My players are just sick about it. It's got to turn for us."

The Titans looked ready to blow the game open as they built a 26-7 lead early in the second quarter. They intercepted Blake twice and blocked a punt for a safety. McNair connected with Kevin Dyson on TD throws of 13 and 47 yards after interceptions by Denard Walker and Dainon Sidney, and Del Greco kicked a 50-yarder following the safety.

But Blake rallied the Bengals with 22 points in a span of 6:18 for a 29-26 lead, and the Titans managed only 12 yards total offense in the third quarter.

He set up Ki-Jana Carter's 2-yard TD run with 1:55 left in the second quarter. Rodney Heath, playing left corner in place of the injured Charles Fisher, stripped Thigpen of the ball after a 31-yard reception, and Greg Myers recovered.

Blake hit five receivers as he drove the Bengals 61 yards for his 3-yard TD toss to Tony McGhee just before the half, and he put Cincinnati ahead for the first time on the opening drive of the third quarter. He found Willie Jackson on the sideline for a 17-yard TD, and he hit Brian Milne for a two-point conversion and a 29-26 lead.

Notes: The franchise's first year as the Titans marks the franchise's 40th year overall, with the first 37 in Houston. ... Bruce Matthews extended his streak of consecutive starts to 181 games, which leads all active players. Matthews' start also set a club record for most seasons at 17, breaking a tie with Elvin Bethea at 16. ... The debut of Adelphia marks the franchise's sixth home stadium, including four in the last four years. ... Eddie George now is second on the club's career rushing list, trailing only Earl Campbell (8,574). ... Donald Mitchell's block of Will Brice's kick was Tennessee's first safety in 45 games, dating back to Sept. 29, 1996. ... Del Greco's field goals extended his club record streak to 19 and gave him 301 in his career. ... The Bengals now are 4-10 when opening on the road. ... Brice was signed to the punting job just over a week ago due to an injury to Brad Costello.


 
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