Titans upend Browns


Photo by Rick Harris
Tennesseeƕs Eddie George caps a 15-play, 72-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run in the first quarter Saturday night.

By Wes Holtsclaw
STAR STAFF
wholtsclaw@starhq.com
NASHVILLE -- Altogether, it was pretty brief but the state of Tennessee got its first sip of the NFL season Saturday night at the Coliseum.
The Tennessee Titans first-string offense showed signs of promise for the upcoming year, lighting up the scoreboard in their first of two drives against the Cleveland Browns defense.
"We had a good first drive because of all the success with our third down conversions," Titans head coach Jeff Fisher said. "Derrick Mason made some big plays on third downs, as did Steve McNair. On defense, we had two consecutive three and outs, but four defensive penalties are way too many for one half."
The Titans picked up an additional field goal in the third quarter and held Cleveland on a goal line stand in the final minutes to pick up a 10-6 victory.
The Tennessee defense dogged the Browns, holding Cleveland to nine rushing yards in the first half.
Combined with the solid offensive series, this NFL team may be on the right path to success this season.
"I think we came out looking really sharp," said Titans quarterback Steve McNair, who played through two possessions in the first quarter. "Overall we played pretty well. We did well on the first drive, unfortunately, we stumbled on the second drive. Those kind of things happen, but overall, I thought we did well."
McNair was 7 of 10 for 61 yards, with Derrick Mason leading the receiving chart with 52 yards on five grabs in two stanzas.
"We established our offense in both running and passing game," the former Alcorn State quarterback said. "It's a huge plus for us anytime you score on the first drive."
The passing game opened things up for Eddie George, who tallied 24 yards on seven carries for Tennessee in the opening drive tilt.
"Our passing game opened things up for the running game," said George, the all-time Titans rushing leader, who is looking for his seventh 1,000-yard rushing season.
"That's the way it needs to be all season," he said. "The passing game should compliment the running game and vice versa. We have to continue to get better. This is just a barometer of where we are right now, but we still have to get better."
Tennessee erupted onto the field with volcanic proportions against the Browns defense, picking up right where they left off in their last home contest against Pittsburgh in the AFC divisional playoffs.
Mason was the subject of four McNair passes, including a 21-yard first down. Eddie George had six carries during the 15-play frame, capping the 72-yard drive with a one-yard plunge to take a 7-0 lead.
The score was disputed by Browns coach Butch Davis, but was upheld by the official.
"Although I didn't think I was in, I guess the ball broke the goalline," said George. "I got hit as I was going over and thought I was down, but they ruled it a touchdown."
"We accomplished what we wanted to tonight," he said. "Overall, I think we did a lot controlling the ball. We had to sustain drives and I think we did that on the first drive. Steve did a great job of converting on third downs, but by no means are we ready to start this season.
Where the Titan offense excelled, the defense rivaled, forcing Cleveland to punt on their first three possessions.
Neil O'Donnell took over the helm in the Titans final drive of the first quarter, opening with some Robert Holcombe carries leading into the second quarter.
The Browns took the ball after a punt to open the quarter, driving down the field on a short Tim Couch completion and some William Greene rushes. Couch continued to strike Dennis Northcutt with a late-hit personal foul penalty putting Cleveland inside the red zone.
The Titans held the Browns with stingy pass defense, forcing a 26-yard Phil Dawson field goal, closing the game at 7-3.
Kelly Holcomb took over the helm for Cleveland, but he couldn't weed through the stingy Titan defense until his second drive in the second quarter via a 33-yard pass interference penalty.
A pair of fumbles eventually found the ball in Cleveland's hands, setting up a 51-yard field goal from Dawson, pulling within a point to end the half.
Both sides tugged away with their second and third string units in the second half. The Titans battled behind quarterback Billy Volek, who struck some passes setting up a 22-yard field goal from Nedney to take a 10-6 lead.
A Volek touchdown pass was called back in the fourth quarter with a missed Nedney field goal, preventing Tennessee from extending their lead. It led to the Browns' drive in the fourth where Tennessee held them on four consecutive downs after a ball was dropped in the end zone.
Couch finished 4 of 8 for 17 yards, while Holcomb tallied 71 yards on a 7 of 11 night in the Cleveland quarterback race in front of the 68,809 in attendance.
The victory gives Tennessee their fourth consecutive home victory in preseason play dating back to their 14-10 victory over Kansas City in 2000.