Posted: Sunday January 23, 2000 09:48 PM
JACKSONVILLE, Florida (Ticker) -- The running of Steve McNair and a defense which forced six turnovers and recorded a safety gave the Tennessee Titans a hat trick over the Jacksonville Jaguars and their first trip to the Super Bowl in the 40-year history of the franchise.
McNair scored on a pair of one-yard runs to ignite and cap a 23-point second-half explosion as the Titans rolled to a 33-14 victory for their third win against their AFC Central rivals this season.
"They said we couldn't beat Jacksonville three times in a season and the players didn't blink an eye," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. "Our players believed, believed and believed and now we're going to the Super Bowl."
Tennessee (16-3), which had the most wins of any wild card team in NFL history, will play the NFC champion St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV at Atlanta next Sunday. The Titans handed the Rams their first loss of the season, 24-21 at Tennessee on October 31.
The Titans, an original AFL team, were known as the Houston Oilers in their first 37 seasons before they moved to Tennessee in 1997. The franchise was known as the Oilers until this season when it changed its nickname to Titans.
Pro Bowl guard Bruce Matthews, who spent his entire 17-year career with the Oilers-Titans, was playing in his first conference title game and is now headed to his first Super Bowl.
"It's unbelievable," Matthews said. "The good Lord was with us all year."
The Jaguars (15-3) won the AFC Central title and finished with the best record in the NFL during the regular season, but lost both of their meetings to Tennessee. It was somewhat fitting that Jacksonville needed to overcome that hurdle to advance to the Super Bowl.
Despite committing two turnovers in the first half, the Jaguars held a 14-10 halftime lead. However, the Jaguars collapsed in the second half, committing four turnovers, yielding a safety when quarterback Mark Brunell was sacked in the end zone and allowing Derrick Mason to return a free kick 80 yards for a touchdown.
"For whatever reason, we didn't play as well as we anticipated we would," Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin said. "The turnovers, the missed opportunities were too much to overcome. It's a bitter pill to swallow."
Penalties also played a major part in Jacksonville's loss, especially during Tennessee's opening six-play, 76-yard scoring drive in the second half.
Jaguars defensive end Tony Brackens was penalized 15 yards for roughing the passer and cornerback Fernando Bryant drew a 28-yard pass interference penalty, accounting for more than half of the yards in the drive.
McNair threw a 15-yard pass to running back Eddie George to midfield, before he was hit late by Brackens, giving Tennessee the ball at the Jacksonville 35. Two plays later, McNair floated a deep pass down the right sideline to Kevin Dyson, who was shoved from behind by Bryant at the Jacksonville 6.
After a five-yard run by George, McNair snuck behind right guard and scored on a keeper to give Tennessee its first lead of the game at 17-14 with 9:24 left in the quarter.
However, the key point of the game came later in the quarter when the Titans scored nine points in a span of 17 seconds to completely deflate the record crowd of 75,206 at Alltel Stadium.
Defensive tackles Josh Evans and Jason Fisk sacked Brunell in the end zone with 5:13 remaining in the third quarter and Mason returned the ensuing free kick for a touchdown to increase the lead to 26-14.
McNair broke off a 51-yard run to set up his own one-yard run with 6:59 left in the fourth quarter to seal the win.
McNair completed 14-of-23 passes for 112 yards, including a nine-yard touchdown to Yancey Thigpen, and rushed for 91 yards on nine carries.
"He's a strong, strong physical football player," Coughlin said of McNair. "We had guys with their arms wrapped around him a couple of times and we couldn't bring him down."
After rushing for 268 yards in Tennessee's playoff wins over Buffalo and Indianapolis, George rushed for 86 yards on 25 carries.
Unfortunately, Tennessee lost two starters -- Thigpen and free safety Marcus Robertson -- to injuries. Thigpen left the game in the first half with a fracture in his left foot. Robertson suffered a broken left ankle.
Jacksonville star back Fred Taylor gained 110 yards on 19 carries, but was limited to 37 yards on 11 attempts in the second half when Jacksonville was shut down.
Brunell was 19-of-38 for 226 yards, including a seven-yard touchdown to tight end Kyle Brady, but was intercepted twice. Pro Bowl receiver Jimmy Smith caught five passes for 92 yards, but was held to two receptions for 26 yards in the second half.
"We didn't play as well as we wanted to," Brunell said. "They played tough and made very few mistakes. They made the plays when they had to make them, particularly McNair on those big runs."
It marked the first time a team has won all three meetings from the other in a single season with the third victory coming on the road.
This was the fourth time since the merger that two teams from the same division met in the conference title game after one swept the other during the regular season. In 1982, the Miami Dolphins beat the New York Jets after sweeping them in the regular season; in 1983, the Raiders beat the Seattle Seahawks after getting swept; and in 1986 the New York Giants completed the hat trick against the Washington Redskins.
In the last meeting, the Titans embarrassed the Jaguars, 41-14, at Tennessee on December 26 as McNair set a career high with five touchdown passes. Back in Week Three, Neil O'Donnell started for an injured McNair and led the Titans to a 20-19 win at Jacksonville.
Tennessee, the sixth wild card team to reach the Super Bowl, started its playoff run with a miracle playoff win over the Buffalo Bills. Trailing 16-15, Dyson scored on a 75-yard kick return off a lateral from Frank Wycheck with three seconds left to give Tennessee a thrilling 22-16 victory in the wild card round. Last week, the Titans beat AFC East champion Indianapolis, 19-16.
"There was a lot of people that didn't think we could do it, but the mere fact that we believed we could do it and did it was great," Wycheck said of Tennessee's run to the Super Bowl.
The Jaguars, appearing in the AFC title game for the second time in their five-year existence, were coming off the second-biggest rout in playoff history, a 62-7 trouncing of the Miami Dolphins.
Jacksonville started today where it left off last week, gaining 51 yards on its first two plays. Brunell hit Smith with an 18-yard pass and Taylor broke off a 33-yard run to the Tennessee 13. Three plays later on a 3rd-and-4 play, Brunell connected with Brady on a seven-yard scoring pass.
However, unlike Miami last week, the Titans responded with a nine-play, 51-yard scoring drive. McNair completed three passes for 23 yards and rushed twice for 14 yards, capping the drive with a nine-yard TD to Thigpen with 5:30 left in the quarter.
"It was a great start, but unfortunately the next kickoff they ran it to midfield and scored and kind of took that away a little bit," Brunell said.
Jacksonville drove 72 yards to the Tennessee 5 in the second quarter, but squandered the opportunity when Robertson stepped in front of tight end Damon Jones and intercepted a pass in the end zone.
After its defense forced a three-and-out, Jacksonville drove 65 yards in four plays for the go-ahead touchdown. After an 11-yard pass from Brunell to Smith, a nine-yard pass interference penalty on linebacker Eddie Robinson and two runs by Taylor for 12 yards, James Stewart broke off a 33-yard touchdown run with 4:36 left in the half.
Tennessee capitalized on a turnover to set up a 34-yard field goal by Al Del Greco with 20 seconds left in the half. Reggie Barlow muffed a punt and Tennessee's Steve Jackson recovered at the Jacksonville 19.
After Tennessee's defense held Jacksonville to open the second half, the Titans marched 76 yards in six plays with the help of the two penalties against Brackens and Bryant and took the lead for good.
On Jacksonville's ensuing possession, Brady caught a short pass and fumbled after being hit by Robinson and Fisk recovered at the Jacksonville 35.
A 15-yard pass from McNair to tight end Jackie Harris moved the Titans to the Jacksonville 7. It appeared they were on the verge of adding to their lead when Wycheck caught a slant from McNair and was headed to the end zone, but had the ball stripped by linebacker Kevin Hardy and linebacker Lonnie Marts recovered for the Jaguars at the Jacksonville 1.
Tennessee's defense then stepped to the forefront. After linebacker Barron Wortham stuffed Taylor for no gain, the Jaguars attempted to pass. As Brunell faded back in his own end zone, Evans grabbed him by the ankle and Fisk knocked him over, giving Tennessee its second safety of the postseason.
"We had the right protection, we just got beat," Brunell said. "You get beat down there, bad things are going to happen."
On the ensuing free kick, Mason fielded the ball at the 20, faked Jason Craft to the ground, ran to his right and easily raced past kicker Bryan Barker and cruised into the end zone to give Tennessee a 26-14 lead with 4:56 left in the third quarter.
"As soon as I made the move and made one man miss, I knew I was gone," Mason said. "It was a matter of me making another cut and heading to the house and that's what I did."
Jacksonville reached the Tennessee 36 on its next possession, but Brunell's pass went off the outstretched arm of Smith on a 4th-and-2 play to end the threat.
In the fourth quarter, Brunell fumbled the ball away after he was stripped by end Kenny Holmes and Jevon Kearse recovered for the Titans at the Jacksonville 15. However, on the same play, Kearse attempted to lateral but cornerback Samari Rolle dropped the ball and Keenan McCardell recovered for the Jaguars at the 11.
Brunell was intercepted by rookie safety Donald Mitchell at the Tennessee 39 with 9:12 left in the fourth quarter.
Three plays later, McNair raced up the middle for a 51-yard gain before he scored on a one-yard run.
Brady fumbled after he was hit by Robinson in the final minutes for Jacksonville's sixth turnover.
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