Seven sacks. Four turnovers. One stone-cold stop after another. With their defense making it easy, the Tennessee Titans haltingly emerged from a scoring slump.
Eddie George rushed for 123 yards and a pair of touchdowns Sunday as the Titans turned three Cincinnati fumbles into points and a 24-14 victory over the Bengals.
It was a fundamentally sloppy but ultimately satisfying turnaround for Tennessee (7-2), which took its first shutout in 10 years by falling 17-0 in Miami last week. The Titans hadn't scored a touchdown in their last seven quarters.
Tennessee added to the franchise's best start since 1991 by taking advantage of the Bengals' numerous mistakes and grinding them down with an unyielding defense.
Cincinnati (1-9) managed only 99 net yards on offense through the first three quarters as Tennessee surged ahead 24-7. The Bengals' score came when Tremain Mack returned the second-half kickoff 99 yards.
"This place is ... I don't know," said Steve McNair, who was 12-of-25 for only 103 yards against a defense prone to giving up big plays. "We don't play our best games here, but you always have one or two players that stand out."
On Sunday, 11 stood out. The Titans' defense gave up virtually nothing when the game mattered.
Jeff Blake was under heavy pressure all game, completing 18 of 32 passes for 236 yards one meaningless touchdown in the closing minutes. He also fumbled the ball away twice and took seven sacks.
"That's what it's all about," said George, who doubled his total of rusing touchdowns for the season. "When you get to weeks eight and nine, from here on out your defense starts becoming your offense in a way. They set up the offense as far as getting good field position."
Blake declined to talk about the game, directing a profanity at reporters before leaving the dressing room.
"It's the same thing every week," offensive tackle Willie Anderson said. "Some weeks the offense does its job and the defense doesn't. Today the defense did its job and the offense didn't. We just can't put anything together."
Following their last home game, a 41-10 loss to Jacksonville, coach Bruce Coslet and his players had garbage thrown at him as they left the field. A green canopy was put up Sunday as protection leading to the dressing room.
Afterwards, Coslet mentioned his job uncertainty for next season, one of the few times he has brought it up on his own.
"Yeah, you heard me right. Do you think I'm stupid? I know a little bit about what's going on," Coslet said. "I'm fighting for my job like a lot of guys in that locker room are fighting for their jobs."
McNair again was rusty and often off-target in his third game since returning from surgery on a disc in his back. He failed to move the offense in anything more than an occasional spurt.
"During the season, you have these droughts," McNair said. "Eventually we will have that great game."
George carried the load with only his second 100-yard game of the season. On Tennessee's game-opening drive, he found a huge hole to the left and ran 23 yards for the Titans' first touchdown in eight quarters.
McNair's 1-yard run, set up by the first of Blake's two fumbles, made it 14-0 with 14 seconds left in the second quarter.
Mack returned the second-half kickoff 99 yards two more yards than the Bengals' offense managed in the first half to cut Tennessee's lead to 14-7, the closest Cincinnati has been in the second half in five games.
The Bengals then fumbled the game away. Carl Pickens' fumble after a reception set up George's 14-yard touchdown run. Damon Griffin fumbled the kickoff directly to kicker Craig Hentrich, and Al Del Greco made a 26-yard field less than four minutes later for a 24-7 lead.
Given the way the Titans' defense was playing, the Bengals didn't have a chance. Cincinnati's offense failed to get a first down on three third-quarter possessions, gaining a total of 2 yards.
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