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NFL Recap (Tennessee-Tampa Bay)

Posted: Mon November 9, 1998 at 1:01 a.m EST


TAMPA, Florida (Ticker) -- Eddie George had his fifth straight 100-yard rushing game and quarterback Steve McNair ran for 95 yards, including a backbreaking 71-yard touchdown, as the Tennessee Oilers defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 31-22.

The Oilers were trailing 16-3 at halftime against a Tampa Bay team that allowed just 81.5 rushing yards per game and three rushing TDS all season, both NFC-lows. But George and McNair each rushed for a score in the second half while pacing a Tennessee ground game that totaled 236 yards, the most against the Buccaneers this year.

George carried 27 times for 134 yards, including a 14-yard TD in the third quarter that started Tennessee's comeback. McNair, who had eight rushes, finished off the victory when he went 71 yards with his team ahead by two points and facing 3rd-and-8 with less than two minutes to go.

McNair also went 9-for-16 for 123 yards for the Oilers (5-4), who have won four of their last five games and improved to 4-1 on the road.

"It was different than last year," McNair said. "We had a different attitude. Last year we weren't confident, but this year in the second half, we knew they weren't going to stop us in prime time. We stepped up and our defense played harder."

Tampa Bay's Trent Dilfer was 20-for-38 for 294 yards with two touchdowns, but his lone interception proved critical. While throwing from his own end zone early in the fourth quarter, he was picked off by linebacker Joe Bowden, who went in from one yard for a TD that gave Tennessee a 24-16 lead.

The Bucs suffered their first loss in five games at Raymond James Stadium.

Trailing by 13 points to start the second half, Tennessee took the kickoff and went 80 yards in seven plays. The Oilers capitalized on a pair of crucial penalties, as a pass interference call on cornerback Ronde Barber and an unsportsmanlike conduct call on safety Charles Mincy moved the ball all the way to the Tampa 14. George followed with his TD run to bring the Oilers within 16-10.

After Tennessee stopped Tampa on the next series, George went back to work. The Oilers took over on their own 40 and McNair handed off three times to George, who produced carries of seven, 16 and 30 yards to set up 1st-and goal at the 7. On the next play, Mike Archie burst through the middle to give the Oilers a 17-16 lead.

"I'm running behind an All-World guard," George said of Bruce Matthews. "We've seen a lot of blocks and we're into a groove. Earlier in the year we couldn't run the ball like we wanted to. Steve makes great decisions with the passing game and that opens it up for me to run. Teams play us more honestly, which enables us to get our running game into the flow."

On its first series of the final period, Tennessee was forced to punt from its own 49. Craig Hentrich's punt was caught and downed by Anthony Dorsett at the Bucs 1. On the next play, Dilfer tried his ill-advised pass to Reidel Anthony, but Bowden tipped it to himself and rumbled in for a 24-16 advantage.

The Bucs had a chance to tie after Dilfer's 10-yard toss to Anthony made it 24-22 with 4:32 left. Dilfer looked for Bert Emanual, who had 1-on-1 coverage in the left corner with Darryll Lewis, but his pass was long.

"Just missed it," Dilfer said. "I haven't seen the replay of it, but when it left my hand I thought it was a good throw. One of the things I'm learning is in this league you've got to make plays."

But it looked like Tampa would get the ball back with Tennessee facing 3rd-and-8 from its 29. Lineman Tyoka Jackson was in the backfield and had a shot at McNair, but he escaped and sprinted untouched from there into the end zone for the insurance TD with 1:46 to go.

"I was trying to make sure that I got in and got a good lead," McNair said. "We weren't looking to get a touchdown on that play. But things happened and we did."

"That was a great play on his part," Dilfer added. "He's an incredible athlete and that put the dagger in our hearts."

Dilfer moved Bucs with ease in the first half, throwing for 211 yards. But Tampa could get just one TD -- a 58-yard strike from Dilfer to Emanual with 3:39 left in the half. Michael Husted kicked field goals of 46, 30, and 24 yards as the Bucs brought a 16-3 into the half.

"In the first half, we had some chances and kicked field goals," Tampa Bay coach Tony Dungy said. "They had chances in the second half and scored touchdowns. Our run defense let us down in the second half and that was the difference."

Tampa running backs Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott, who both rushed for over 100 yards last week in a win over Minnesota, combined for just 81 on a combined 24 carries in this loss. Emanual caught five passes for 106 yards and Anthony had seven receptions for 68 yards.

© 1998 Sportsticker Enterprises, LP

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