Titans bounce back for win over Saints


Photo by Rick Harris
Titans receiver Drew Bennett slides in front of Saints cornerback Ashley Ambrose to make a catch.

By Wes Holtsclaw
STAR STAFF
wholtsclaw@starhq.com
NASHVILLE--The New Orleans Saints came marching into The Coliseum with a confident staff and potent offense. But after running into the brick wall of the Tennessee Titans defense, they left feeling like the loser of a Bourbon Street brawl.
The Titans held New Orleans running back Deuce McAllister to eight rushing yards and kept quarterback Aaron Brooks from being a threat, while Eddie George ran with ease and Steve McNair threw with finesse to help Tennessee take a 27-12 victory Sunday afternoon.
George had his first 100-yard rushing game of the season, while McNair threw for 252 yards and two scores, becoming one in a handful of NFL quarterbacks to reach the 20,000 throwing and 3,000 rushing-yard plateau.
McNair joins an elite list that includes Fran Tarkenton, John Elway, Steve Young and Randall Cunningham in the 20,000/3,000 club.
"I think our challenge now is to keep this going," said Titans coach Jeff Fisher. "We bounced back after a tough week and played a pretty good football game in all three phases. Steve hasn't gotten a lot of credit over the years. He's made plays and won a lot of games. That shows you what kind of passer he is."
"We wanted to go into this game emotionally with a vengeance," added McNair. "New Orleans is a great club and we knew they were going to be tough. We wanted to come out and prove a point."
Eddie George shot down a lot of his media critics, many of whom were saying his time is almost up with the Titans squad, during the post-game press conference.
"At this point I don't care what is being said about me," George said. "Say what you want to say, write what you want to write. I wasn't listening."
The Titans totaled 385 total offensive yards and controlled the clock for close to 40 minutes of regulation.
"Offensively, what can you say? We kept the ball for almost 40 minutes," Fisher continued. "That is how you win these games when you play a team that has the offensive weapons they have."
Coming into this season, the Saints were the second best road team in the NFL since 2000. That has changed after Sunday's outing as New Orleans has lost its first two road games of the 2003 season, picking up only 188 total offensive yards.
"This is our style of defense," said Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck, who led the team with six tackles and a sack. "Last week, we had a bad game and we take pride in stopping the run. We corrected our mistakes and came out ready to play."
The Tennessee front four including Kevin Carter, Robaire Smith and Jevon Kearse applied pressure on the run and pass game all afternoon long.
Offensively, the Titans began early as McNair completed five passes for 53 yards on the first drive to set up new kicker Gary Anderson's first field goal in a home ballgame with 7:48 elapsed in the first quarter.
New Orleans was held to a punt during their first stanza; however, it was fumbled into the end zone by Justin McCareins. Tony Beckham pitched it forward for an automatic safety, pulling the Saints within a point.
The visiting squad wouldn't get their easy shot as the ensuing kick was fumbled by Melvin Williams and recovered by Titan rookie wide receiver Tyrone Callico at the 38 yard line.
McNair quickly found Erron Kinney with a 14-yard toss before George made three solid gains to set up a McCareins 2-yard touchdown grab to put Tennessee up with a 10-2 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Things were a little different for New Orleans during its next drive as Brooks hit former Tennessee Vol Donte Stallworth and tight end Ernie Conwell with a completions before it was forced to punt.
The Titans picked right up where they left off when McNair hit Drew Bennett and Shad Meier for first downs, while punter Chris Hentrich and Bennett both had a pair of trick completions to McCareins and Derrick Mason, respectively, to set up a 43-yard field goal from Anderson, making the score 13-2.
New Orleans finally got on the board with its next drive as Brooks hit Jerome Pathon with a 38-yarder to help put John Carney in position for a 31-yard kick between the uprights.
However, McNair looked to put the dagger into play on the Titans' final drive of the half, hitting Bennett for 56 yards on three grabs. But McNair would cause the team's temporary misfortune with his third fumble of the season, this time inside the five yard line.
Tennessee's defense made up for it during its first stand of the second half when Peter Sirmon caused a McAllister fumble, which was recovered by Samari Rolle. Drew Bennett had the popular hands again, with three more grabs, including a five-yard touchdown, to give his squad the 20-5 boost.
A pair of punts allowed Brooks to direct the Saints, most successful drive of the game to begin the fourth quarter, as he set up Pathon with a 10-yard touchdown to close the gap within a score.
The Titans finished things off after some solid throws allowed George to battle six yards for six more points, with an Anderson boot giving Tennessee the 27-12 victory.
For the Titans, it was a big night for Drew Bennett, who gained 105 yards on eight catches, and had his one pass completion for 14 yards.
"This was a great feeling to be a part of the offense and get a great win," added Bennett. "I think we had good practice all week and we were focused coming in."
It was a special home debut for one of the NFL's most prolific kickers in the past two decades, with Anderson accounting for nine Titan points with his foot.
"I'm getting closer to my rhythm," Anderson said. "I was happy to have the opportunity to contribute today. It was a good team effort by everybody."