Titans throttle Buffalo

By Wes Holtsclaw
STAR STAFF
wholtsclaw@starhq.com

   NASHVILLE -- The Buffalo Bills made their first of two visits to Nashville this season, running into a team on a mission Saturday night.
   The first units were nearly unstoppable, as Steve McNair and receiver Justin McCareins helped the Tennessee Titans take a 21-0 lead early.
   The Titan reserves continued the pace through the second quarter and second half, holding off Buffalo for a 37-24 victory at the Coliseum.
   "We made a lot of big plays," Titans head coach Jeff Fisher said. "Steve (McNair) with his legs and arms, and Justin (McCareins) was making big plays as well. Defensively, we got good pressure early without blitzing to stop a couple of drives."
   "We're playing pretty good football right now, but we still have a lot of things to work out," said Titans quarterback Steve McNair. "Tonight we had to overcome some adversity (with an interception), but I think we did a good job bouncing back and making plays."
   McNair led the starting quarterbacks with 70 yards on an 8 for 12 night. Buffalo's Drew Bledsoe was 5 for 11 with 47 yards.
   "We still had a few too many mistakes," said the Buffalo quarterback Bledsoe. "We overcame a couple of penalties, but it makes the field longer for us. We have to get that straightened out."
   McCareins had a big game for the Titans, matching his career total two touchdowns with a pair during four minutes in the second quarter. He finished the game with 57 yards on his three grabs.
   Former Tennessee Vol Travis Henry gained 69 yards on three rushes, including a 62-yard run in the second quarter. Eddie George had 20 yards on 9 carries for Tennessee.
   Both starting groups saw more action during this contest, coming in after victories last week.
   Tennessee opened things up again during their first drive, but it started on a rough note after Frank Wycheck went down with a concussion during the first play.
   The Titans picked things up with a McNair pass to Derrick Mason, before a 48-yard pass interference penalty on Izell Reese gave them the ball inside the Buffalo 10-yard line.
   Eddie George punched the ball towards the end zone with a six-yard gain; following things up with a one-yard touchdown to take a 7-0 lead.
   Buffalo stormed out with three-straight completions of 9, 8 and 14 from Bledsoe.
   Two penalties and a dropped pass by Josh Reed in the end zone spoiled the Bills' offensive start before Juqua Thomas hammered the quarterback to force a punt.
   However, the Bills got the ball right back when McNair was picked off by Nate Clements on Tennessee's first play with a facemask penalty putting Buffalo back in Titans territory.
   Tennessee's defense kept Buffalo in check, forcing a crucial fourth-and-three where Kevin Carter pressured Bledsoe to an incompletion.
   The home squad went to the air during their next offensive series, with McNair completing six passes including a 16-yarder to Erron Kinney and a 20-yarder to McCareins.
   It set up a crucial fourth down as McNair touched McCareins for a score to take a 14-0 advantage.
   Tennessee's defense simply hammered Buffalo into submission during their next frame, with a quick three-and-out.
   The gift was accepted, as Titans' back-up Billy Volek touched McCareins for his second touchdown with a clean 35-yard throw, taking a 21-0 lead.
   Henry wouldn't allow a soured return to the Volunteer State, scampering for a 62-yard game during the Bills' final starting offensive frame.
   "I saw a big cutback lane, the hole was there and I just took it," Henry said. "It was a footrace to the end zone."
   It set up former the Denver Bronco, Gary, who battled for Buffalo's first score on a ten-yard run.
   Buffalo followed things up with a 49-yard field goal from Rian Lindell to close the gap at 21-10.
   A facemask penalty put Tennessee inside the Buffalo 25-yard line on their next drive, giving Joe Nedney good position for a 23-yard field goal to put Tennessee up 24-10 at the half.
   Nedney was called upon again in the third quarter after a steady drive, with a 45-yarder to push a 27-10 lead.
   A roughing the passer and pass interference penalty helped Buffalo score with a one-yard punch in from Gary.
   Tennessee rallied right back late in the third quarter, with a 45-yard touchdown pass from Volek to Jake Schifino, and early in the fourth with a 25-yard field goal from Brian Holmes making it 37-17.
   Buffalo added one final score in the fourth when third-stringer Travis Brown touched Joe Burns with a 20-yard touchdown pass.
   Game Notes: Obviously, with a packed core of running backs, there will be a rushing emphasis with the Bills this season.
   "It was one of the things we wanted to do last year, but this year we want to be a lot better up front and just focus on being a balanced offense," Henry said.
   Bledsoe was nothing but praise for Henry.
   "We're going to see some big plays out of Travis this year," said Bledsoe. "He's a tremendous back and we're going to do a good job blocking for him. We just have to get some more big plays out of our passing game."
   - The meeting saw the reunion of six Tennessee Vols from the 1998 National Championship season: Henry, Dominique Stevenson, Trey Teague and Phil Crosby with Buffalo, Albert Haynesworth and Steven Marsh with the Titans.
   - New Bills linebacker and former Cincinnati Bengal Takeo Spikes did not play in Saturday night's contest. Bills first-round draft pick Willis McGahee was in attendance.