The play, for Tennessee, was as good as it gets: Evans bull-rushed and hit the seam between right tackle Leon Searcy and right guard Zach Wiegert, and Kearse beat Ben Coleman around the left end, forcing Taylor to help out. That gave Evans a shot at Brunell, and Titans tackle Jason Fisk helped finish off the two-point play. On the ensuing free kick, Bryan Barker punted to the Tennessee 20-yard line, and Derrick Mason, after a couple of stutter steps, burst up the middle and had clear sailing to the end zone.
Down 26-14, Brunell had time to mount a comeback, but he was about to be chased like Chris O'Donnell in The Bachelor. He would score no more against the Titans' constant pressure, while McNair, who threw for only 112 yards but ran for 91 and two touchdowns, made the two biggest offensive plays of the second half: shaking free from Hardy early in the third quarter to turn a likely sack into a 15-yard completion to running back Eddie George (along with a 15-yard roughing-the-passer penalty on defensive end Tony Brackens), which led to the go-ahead touchdown; and scrambling 51 yards midway through the fourth quarter to set up his game-clinching touchdown sneak. That McNair ran so well with a painful turf toe—he wore an air cast on his left foot before and after the game—was even more impressive. "This guy has been critiqued and maligned all season," said Tennessee tight end Jackie Harris, "but people need to chill. He just took control and led us to victory."
Brunell, who threw two interceptions, lost a fumble and was sacked three times, has had better days, though several dropped passes didn't help. Nor did the aggressive schemes of Williams, who, despite having grown chummy with Brunell at various off-season charity functions, was determined not to let friendship get in the way of business. During last Thursday's practice at the Titans' Nashville training facility, Williams approached McNair between drills and told him, "Steve, this game will be decided by which quarterback stands the tallest, and I promise only one will be standing by the time it's over."
If Williams's role is to fire up his players, Fisher serves as a Smokey the Bear figure. But even the ultracool coach got caught up in the heated rivalry with the Jaguars, who after their lopsided loss in late December didn't exactly sing Tennessee's praises. Instead, five Jaguars—Searcy, wideouts Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell, cornerback Fernando Bryant and defensive tackle Gary Walker, a former Titan—cut their rap track. After the tune hit the airwaves in early January, Tom Coughlin, Jacksonville's superstrict coach, was about as excited as he would have been if someone had started passing out bongs at practice. Yet the tune hit the airwaves in early January, and Uh Oh was blaring in the home team's locker room following Jacksonville's 62-7 obliteration of the Miami Dolphins in a divisional playoff game on Jan. 15. The Jaguars were relatively loose and confident before their third meeting with Tennessee. After all, they were 15-0 against the rest of the league, and
they felt they could rationalize their losses to the Titans: The first was a 20-19 setback at home in September in which Brunell threw an end-zone interception in the final minute, and the December blowout could be chalked up to injuries, an emotionally flat effort and a career day by McNair.
"Hey, we're playing a great team, and they have a right to be confident," Fisher said the day before the game as he sat in a conference room at Tennessee's hotel, near Ponte Vedra Beach. Then, clutching a tape in one hand, Fisher allowed his sarcasm to seep out. "They went 14-2, and it could've been 16-0 if they hadn't given us two games. If we can somehow win, I don't know what'll be more gratifying: going to the first Super Bowl in franchise history or beating Jacksonville for a third time."
That night, in the same meeting room, Fisher reminded his players that the Jaguars' record over the past two seasons against teams .500 or better was 3-6. "Sometimes, when people talk about how confident they are, they're really trying to cover up a lack of confidence," Fisher said. "Don't underestimate how much of an effect our beating them twice has had on them. We'll find out how confident they are tomorrow." Then Fisher slipped the tape into a VCR and told his players, "Now, watch this video and remember it, and maybe after the ball game you might say, 'Uh oh.' "
At the end of the video, which featured the rap song laced over Jacksonville highlights, the room was stone-cold silent. The Titans probably didn't need the extra motivation, but it made for some good trash talk during and after the game. Said Kearse, "They did all that hoopin' and hollerin', and they were singing, 'Uh oh.' But by the end of the game it was, 'Oh no, not the Titans again.' "
Amazingly, the Jaguars kept right on crowing into the off-season. "I still think we're a better team," Taylor insisted—ground control to Major Fred—and McCardell said, "We killed ourselves."
When will they learn, man? When will they learn?