Titans Surge Past Browns


Maybe these Tennessee Titans are a special team. They're certainly not just a .500 club anymore.

Trailing at halftime, Tennessee's special teams set up a go-ahead score with a fumble recovery and Derrick Mason ran a punt back 65 yards for another TD Sunday, giving the Titans a 33-21 win over the Cleveland Browns.

Eddie George rushed for 113 yards and two TDs and Steve McNair ran for another as the Titans improved to 9-2 for the first time since 1991 when they were in Houston.

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Game Summary

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  • Even when they were known as the Oilers, the Titans had trouble returning kickoffs and punts. A missed block or penalty always seemed to sabotage a big return.

    But by breaking off their first punt return TD in 77 games, the Titans finally broke down another barrier the eight-win wall. Tennessee had gone 8-8 in each of the past three seasons.

    "You can't say enough about the turnovers on special teams," said Titans coach Jeff Fisher. "The fumble recovery, and then of course, Derrick's return really got us out of the hole and got us going."

    Tennessee, 7-0 within the AFC Central, has been one of the NFL's surprise teams this season. However, the Titans' resurgence hasn't gotten the same attention as those in St. Louis, Indianapolis and Seattle.

    But forced to rally in the second half on the road, the Titans, who have won 13 straight division games, did what good teams are supposed to they took advantage of an opponent's mistake, made them pay and put them away.

    "The difference was the fumbled punt," said George. "We capitalized and took the life out of them. We're finally over the 8-8 hump."

    Al Del Greco kicked two field goals and Tennessee's defense sacked Clevelan rookie quarterback Tim Couch seven times and held the Browns to 81 yards rushing.

    The Titans hadn't returned a punt for a TD since Ernest Givins' 78-yard return on Dec. 11, 1994. But Mason changed that with his game-breaker in the third quarter.

    "We've been so close to breaking big plays but haven't," said Mason. "Not in three years, or 10 years I guess. I could feel this one coming."

    So could the Browns.

    For 30 minutes, it looked like the expansion Browns (2-10) might finally give Cleveland fans a chance to celebrate a first win at home since 1995. Cleveland honored more than 120 of its former players, including Hall of Famers Otto Graham and Lou Groza during halftime ceremonies, but an emotion-filled day would eventually turn somber.

    "Just look at the stats and it's a close game," Cleveland coach Chris Palmer said. "But when you have two key plays that change the course of the ballgame, it kills you. You can't do that in this league."

    Couch shook off a vicious hit in the first half to finish 19 of 35 for 262 yards and two TDs. He also ran for a score.

    Couch sustained a cut eye and had his mouth bloodied when he was picked up and slammed to the ground in the first half by Jevon Kearse and Kenny Holmes. The rookie QB lost his helmet on the play and got up wobbly and spitting blood as he staggered back to the huddle.

    "That hurt me," said Browns offensive tackle Orlando Brown. "I felt it."

    The Browns led 14-13 when Tennessee was forced to punt on its first possession of the quarter. Rookie wide receiver Kevin Johnson fielded Craig Hentrich's punt cleanly but was stripped near the sideline by Dainon Sidney and reserve linebacker Greg Favors recovered at the Cleveland 21.

    "Fundamental football," Johnson said. "The guy made a great play."

    Three plays later, McNair rolled right, threw aside Jamir Miller, and scored on a 1-yard run to give the Titans a 20-14 lead with 9:58 left in the third quarter.

    After forcing a punt, Tennessee moved into scoring position again, but Del Greco missed a 38-yard field goal attempt.

    Cleveland, which because of injuries was forced to play third-string left tackle Chris Ruhman, then went three-and-out, and Mason helped bury the Browns.

    Mason, whose longest return entering the game was 15 yards, curight after catching Chris Gardocki's punt, found a seam and went the distance to give the Titans a 26-14 lead.

    "That was very satisfying," Mason said. "My first thought was to just catch the ball. But then I made a move, got a great block and I knew I was gone."

    Couch hooked up with running back Terry Kirby on a 78-yard TD pass in the second quarter to put Cleveland up 14-7.

    Notes

  • Titans offensive guard Bruce Matthews played in his 259th game, tying Jackie Slater for the most games played in NFL history by an offensive lineman.
  • Browns defensive end Derrick Alexander sacked McNair on a play that looked like it had been whistled dead before the snap. But Alexander never heard the whistle and as the Titans watched, kept coming and delivered a crushing hit on McNair. No foul was called and referee Bernie Kukar explained to the crowd, "I could not hear the whistle, therefore the defender could not hear the whistle."
  • Kearse, who had three sacks in the first meeting between the teams, recorded one and has 8 1/2 this season.

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