Tennessee will be home for playoffs with rout of Dallas
Updated: Tuesday December 26, 2000 12:05 PM
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Credit the NFL's best defense for taking the Tennessee Titans into the playoffs in style.
The Titans turned four third-quarter turnovers into 24 points to beat the Dallas Cowboys 31-0 Monday night and secure the home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
Tennessee, which finished the regular season with the NFL's best record at 13-3, had to win or they would lose the AFC Central to the Baltimore Ravens and slip to a No. 4 seed. The Titans won their first division title since 1993 and third overall.
Titans head coach Jeff Fisher said the defending AFC champions accomplished their goals for the regular season by returning to the playoffs with home-field advantage.
"Now the fun starts," he said. "Now it's time for us to play, and we're very much looking forward to the fact that we're playing at home."
Receiver Yancey Thigpen said only time will tell if Adelphia Coliseum, where they are 16-1 in games that count, provides the boost they need to reach Tampa Bay.
"We like our chances at home. We have a great record at home, and I think the guys really are going to work hard to take advantage of it," Thigpen said.
Their defense may turn out to be a better advantage.
Playing on a frozen field with temperatures in the mid-20s, the Titans turned the ball over four times in the first half.
But the Cowboys (5-11) had Anthony Wright making only his second start at quarterback, not Troy Aikman, and they couldn't do anything with the ball. Not even a successful onside kick on the opening kickoff could jump-start their offense.
The Titans, who shut out Cleveland last week, allowed only 67 yards in the first half and 95 overall. That allowed Tennessee to pass the Ravens for the NFL's top defense this season.
The honor was fitting for a defense that hasn't gotten much recognition.
"Being No. 1 is a plus for us," linebacker Randall Godfrey said. "We've just got to continue doing what we're doing."
It got worse in the third quarter as the Cowboys turned the ball over twice in a 2 1/2-minute span.
Pro Bowl safety Blaine Bishop started the turnover spree, sacking Wright and knocking the ball loose. Linebacker Eddie Robinson recovered, and Eddie George scored on an 11-yard run a minute into the quarter for a 14-0 lead.
Four plays later, Godfrey broke through the line untouched and hit Wright. End Henry Ford fell on the loose ball, stood up and rumbled 30 yards escorted by several teammates before diving in the end zone for a 21-0 lead.
"The momentum swung, the crowd got into the game more, and it was a very merry Christmas in Tennessee," Bulluck said.
It was the most points the Titans scored in a quarter all season long, and that took care of any hopes the Cowboys had of avoiding their worst season since 1989 when they went 1-15 in Jerry Jones' first year as owner.
Dallas head coach Dave Campo said it's tough to play with eight or nine players on injured reserve, but Smith said the Cowboys still stunk up the field offensively.
"It is the end of a frustrating season. There ain't much more we can say about that. There will be some changes made. Whether or not the changes will be positive, we can't tell until the season starts," Smith said.
The Titans couldn't get out of their own way in the first half.
Tight end Frank Wycheck fumbled after a catch, a punt bounced off Denard Walker's foot to the Cowboys, and Dallas linebacker Barron Wortham intercepted Steve McNair's pass in the end zone shortly before halftime when the Titans were trying to throw to Pro Bowl left guard Bruce Matthews.
Now Tennessee gets to do something it never has in the franchise's 41-year history -- stay at home throughout the playoffs.
Notes: The Titans are only the fifth team to finish with at least 13 victories in consecutive seasons since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978. ... The Titans also set a franchise mark for most wins in consecutive seasons with 26, topping the 22 they won in 1992-93 in Houston. ... McNair's TD pass to Derrick Mason in the first quarter gave him 15 TDs this season, matching his career-high set in 1998. ... George topped the 1,500-yard rushing mark for the first time in his career, finishing with 1,509.