Back In Stride
The Titans showed their championship form of last season, running roughshod over the Giants
Titans fullback Lorenzo Neal and his wife, Denisha, had just been seated for dinner at a Japanese restaurant one night last month when they heard a comment that has become all too familiar to them. As the chef prepared the food, a stranger seated at the same grill as the Neals recognized Lorenzo and remarked, "We've already made our hotel reservation for Tampa." Neal appreciated the optimism, but then he thought, It's a little early to be talking about the Super Bowl.
Expectations have been extremely high ever since Tennessee made its surprising run to the NFL title game last January. Rightfully so. Going into Sunday's game against the Giants, however, Tennessee hadn't been living up to its hype. Injuries and a stagnant offense had been largely to blame, and even in winning two of their first three games, the Titans appeared more lucky than good. They needed late heroics to pull out three-point wins over the Chiefs (in overtime) and the Steelers.
"People expect us to kill teams and put up big numbers," says running back Eddie George. "But you have to keep things in perspective. You're going to get tested once in a while."
Tennessee fans saw things that were more to their liking on Sunday, as the Titans jumped to a 21-0 lead over New York and eased to a 28-14 win. Tennessee controlled the ball for more than 42 minutes and held the league's top-ranked rushing attack to 24 yards. Steve McNair threw for 293 yards and three touchdowns, George ran for 125 yards, and the Titans converted 70% of their third-down opportunities.
Tennessee entered the game ranked 25th in rushing and had committed six turnovers in its previous two outings while forcing only one. The club, which prides itself on ball control, also started slowly last year, averaging just 74 yards on the ground in its first three games. By the end of the season, though, that average was up to 113.2.
Against the Giants, the Titans put together touchdown drives covering 80, 98, 80 and 80 yards. "We do well when we mix things up," said tight end Frank Wycheck, "and that's what we did against these guys." The second scoring drive consisted of 10 running plays and nine passes; Tennessee converted six third-down plays and bled 9:53 off the clock. What's more, the Titans intercepted three passes and recovered a fumble, while turning the ball over just once.
McNair controlled the flow of the game, calling numerous audibles and playing with a confidence that appears to be growing each week. "Steve's numbers were one thing," said Titans coach Jeff Fisher, "but you have no way of ever knowing what else he did for us.
"We're not doing anything elaborate," Fisher insisted, and the Giants knew as much. "The sad thing is, we knew what they were going to do" said New York cornerback Jason Sehorn, "but we couldn't stop it."
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