Titans open season with tight victory


Photo by Dave Boyd
Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair rolls to his right.

By Wes Holtsclaw
STAR STAFF
wholtsclaw@starhq.com
NASHVILLE -- It wasn't 44-24, but the Tennessee Titans were justified Sunday night at the Coliseum.
In a marquee re-match of last season's AFC Championship contest, Steve McNair powered the Titans over the Oakland Raiders, 25-20.
The outing went down to the wire with both squads airing it out.
McNair was 25 of 38 for 269 yards with two scores and a pick, while last year's NFL MVP Rich Gannon, despite a near injury, was 22 for 36 for 264 yards and two scores.
Former Tennessee Vol Charlie Garner had over 100 yards in total offense, with a long touchdown in the first half.
Tennessee used penalties to its advantage during Oakland's first offensive possession as Raiders offensive guard Barry Sims was called three times with a false start.
It off-set a pair of 13-yard grabs from Charlie Garner, forcing the Raiders to punt.
The Titans used the crowd to their advantage along with big grabs of 16 and 10 yards from Derrick Mason early. A pass interference call on Oakland cornerback Terrance Shaw moved the ball to the 15-yard line for Tennessee.
Eddie George made a four-yard gain before Tyrone Callico pulled in the first touchdown grab of the Titans' season. Callico's 11-yarder put Tennessee ahead 6-0. The point-after attempt failed.
Oakland was held on its second possession, while Tennessee was plagued when Steve McNair brushed the ball against Rod Coleman, fumbling it over to the Raiders.
The Raiders took over with some nice grabs by Jerry Rice and Charlie Garner, but two more false start penalties and a holding call forced a 47-yard Sebastian Janikowski field goal.
Both teams punted during their next stanzas, then Tennessee rallied around some short McNair passes. Joe Nedney was set up for a 50-yard field goal attempt, which he split between the uprights to put Tennessee up 9-3.
The kicker wasn't lucky on the next play, as he was injured on the ensuing kickoff with a right knee sprain.
After another pair of punts, Oakland took the ball with some solid Gannon tosses to Doug Jolley and Charlie Garner. When Gannon was sacked for a loss on third down, Tennessee defensive tackle Robaire Smith was called for unsportsmanlike conduct.
The Raiders took advantage as Rice caught a 15-yard pass and Garner broke loose on a short pass, scampering 46 yards to paydirt, giving Oakland the 10-9 edge.
Tennessee wouldn't let it bite them with 1:06 left on the clock.
McNair hit Mason (13 gain), Justin McCareins (18 gain) and Erron Kinney (11 gain) with grabs before spiking the ball. It set up punter and backup kicker Craig Hentrich, who barely hit a 49-yard field goal to put the Titans up 12-10 at the half.
The action continued in the second half after a Lee Greenwood performance, when McNair was picked off by Derrick Gibson on the first play from scrimmage.
However, Gibson was hit hard, fumbling the ball back over to Benji Olsen. The Titans made some key gains through the air, but were forced to punt.
After another defensive stand, the home squad took it back over and produced a 13-yard pass completion to McCareins and a 28-yard strike to Kinney. It got Hentrich in position for his second field goal of the night, a 34-yarder to give Tennessee a 15-10 advantage.
The Raiders struck back with Tim Brown's first grab, plus a personal foul. Two more completions sent it into the fourth quarter, where Janikowski completed a 47-yard field goal to cut the Raider deficit to two points.
Tennessee waited around and found another weapon. After a 19-yard Mason grab, Shad Meier hauled in 14- and 12-yard gains for first downs. McNair followed by hitting Mason in the end zone.
In a close call, Oakland corner Anthony Dorsett pushed Mason out of bounds, but the Titans were awarded the score and the 22-13 lead.
Things got scary for the Raiders during their next drive when Jevon Kearse hammered Gannon out of the series. Marques Tuiasosopo filled in, but the squad was forced to punt.
Oakland rallied back in their next drive as Gannon completed five passes, including a 25-yard touchdown to Brown.
The Titans ran the clock down on their next drive after two McNair completions. Penalties and timeouts kept the clock from winding down late as Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher turned the game into a conservative affair.
Tennessee milked the clock for Hentrich, who nailed a 33-yard field goal to make it 25-20 with 31 seconds left.
The Raiders went to the air, but it wouldn't work as the game ended.
NOTES: Due to Sunday night's time restraint, there will be more on the season opener in Tuesday's paper with players/coaches quotes. The Elizabethton STAR is THE Tri-Cities' Tennessee Titans connection.