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NFL SCOREBOARD: Recap
Recap | Box Score | This Week's Scoreboard
Tennessee 31, Cleveland 15
Posted: Sunday December 02, 2001 07:53 PM
Tennessee Titans
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CLEVELAND (Ticker) -- Despite their reversals of fortune this season, the Tennessee Titans still preserved their perfect record against the Cleveland Browns.

Steve McNair threw for 244 yards and three touchdowns, including two to receiver Derrick Mason, as the Titans posted their sixth straight victory over the Browns, 31-15 in a battle of AFC Central rivals.

Since re-entering the league in 1999, Tennessee has won all five meetings against Cleveland by an average of 16.6 points per contest.

But this season, Tennessee (5-6) has struggled despite posting an NFL-best 26-6 record over the previous two seasons. Cleveland (6-5) is in the playoff hunt in 2001 after winning just won five games in their first two years back in the league.

"We needed a win and it was a must win for us," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. "We made plays and put some balls up in the air that typically we don't come down with."

Bravely throwing deep against a Cleveland secondary that had an NFL-leading 25 interceptions in the first 10 games, McNair hit Mason with a 43-yard touchdown pass to give the Titans a 14-0 lead just 9:36 into the game.

Mason had three receptions for 122 yards, while fellow receiver Kevin Dyson made six catches for 110 yards.

"They were running a lot of crossing routes," Browns cornerback Daylon McCutcheon said. "One thing is giving up the catch, but when they run 30-40 yards after catching it, that's what hurts you."

McNair returned to start the second half after being taken to the locker room with a contusion on his left elbow. He confirmed his recovery by connecting with Mason on a 71-yard touchdown, the longest reception of the receiver's career, as Tennessee opened up a 31-7 cushion with 5:51 remaining in the third quarter.

"We gave up some big plays and that is something that we have not done very much this season," Browns coach Butch Davis said. "Tenessee did what they had to do to win the game."

Kevin Johnson caught both touchdowns for the Browns, who had won back-to-back division games over Baltimore and Cincinnati.

"Sometimes the defense doesn't come through for us. It's like we are always fighting an uphill battle," Johnson said of the Browns' unit that entered Sunday with an NFL-best 49.1 defensive passer rating.

The Titans' special teams set up their opening two touchdowns.

Cleveland returner Quincy Morgan was stripped on the opening kickoff by rookie Dan Alexander and Keith Bulluck recovered for Tennessee at the Browns 20.

"The kickoff team made a huge play and we did a good job of scoring a touchdown instead of being held to a field goal," Titans center Bruce Matthews said. "We've heard so much of their defense, but we made plays when we needed to."

Eddie George's second effort from one yard out gave the Titans a 7-0 lead 2:59 into the game.

The All-Pro running back still has yet to record a 100-yard effort this season. On Suday, he gained just 51 yards on 23 carries.

Tennessee punter Craig Hentrich pinned Cleveland at its own 12 with a 22-yard punt. The Browns went three-and-out and Mason returned the ensuing punt five yards to Tennessee possession at midfield.

Two plays later, Mason collected his first touchdown of the day, extending the Titans' lead to 14-0.

But just 2:13 into the second quarter, the Titans momentum seemed to come to a screeching halt with the injury to McNair. Browns linebacker Jamir Miller hit the quarterback as he was throwing an incomplete pass on 3rd-and-11. On the follow through, Miller stepped on McNair's arm.

"I didn't know exactly what was wrong. Everything on my left side was numb. I couldn't move it," McNair said. "When I tried to get up after he hit me, I guess he was celebrating when he stepped on me and everything went black."

Joe Nedney kicked a 29-yard field goal to provide the Titans a suddenly a 17-0 lead.

CLeveland's offense came to life. Tim Couch completed all seven pass attempts on the ensuing possession, capping an 11-play, 61-yard drive with a 10-yard TD strike to Johnson and cutting the Browns' deficit to 17-7.

However, Cleveland's top receiving threat finished the game with only four catches for 41 yards.

"They had a guys wait over the top of me, a guy on me at the line of scrimmage, and that threw off the timing of the routes," Johnson said.

Tennessee leaned on a pair of UCLA alumni to engineer its first touchdown of the second half. Following four straight carries by Skip Hicks, rookie receiver Drew Bennett caught a five-yard TD pass from McNair, making it 24-7.

Then, McNair and Mason teammed again to increase the Titans' lead to 24.

"They went to a cover route and the guys bit on it," Mason said. "Steve just floated it up and the guy was running pretty hard at me. So I figured if I stopped I had a chance, and he ran right by me. I felt the air go out of the same when I scored the second TD."

The teams will meet again in Tennessee on December 30.


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