- The Washington Times - Monday, January 24, 2000

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. The Tennessee Titans finally have a home-field advantage. Ironically, it's on the road.
An Alltel Stadium record crowd of 75,206 waved its white hankies, but it might as well have been signaling surrender. The Titans beat the Jacksonville Jaguars 33-14 yesterday for the AFC Championship. Tennessee will play the St. Louis Rams in Sunday's Super Bowl XXXIV in Atlanta.
The Titans have won three in a row and are 5-1 at Alltel, where the Jaguars have lost only one other game since 1996. Playing on the road doesn't intimidate the Titans, who have played home games at four stadiums in three cities in four years. No wonder the Titans players jumped into a postgame, end-zone crowd of several thousand Tennessee faithful.
"I won't say we own [this stadium], but we put down a down payment on it," Titans defensive end Jevon Kearse said.
Called "The Tale of Two 'Villes," the Titans-Jaguars matchup is becoming the NFL's hottest rivalry. Only Tennessee (16-3) defeated Jacksonville (15-3) this season, including two blowouts. Tennessee became the first team to beat an opponent three times in one season with the final game on the road.
"We tried to put it in their heads for years to come that we're the better team," Kearse said. "They're still going to think they're the better team or beat themselves, but we beat them three times, and we're going to the Super Bowl."
Said punt returner Derrick Mason: "I think it's mental. We go out knowing we're going to win, where other teams see them as a giant. We feel we can beat Jacksonville at any time."
Countered Jaguars running back Fred Taylor: "I still think we're the better team."
Tennessee continued an impressive playoff run that included the "Miracle in Music City," the last-second lateral to beat Buffalo 22-16, and a 19-16 victory over AFC East champion Indianapolis. The Titans relish the underdog role; they weren't favored in the three games against the Jaguars or their last two playoff games.
"We have a lot of guys that were told their whole lives they would never be anything or make it in this league," Titans defensive tackle Josh Evans said. "It's a blue-collar team."
Said tight end Frank Wycheck: "I hope [we're the Super Bowl underdog] because they've been picking us to lose all year. It just proves what everyone knows."
In a sloppily played game that included 10 turnovers and 14 penalties, the Titans barely countered the Jaguars' early big plays. However, a safety and an ensuing 80-yard punt return for a touchdown in the third quarter capped a 16-point Tennessee comeback in less than five minutes.
"When we play them, we find a way to make errors," Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin said. "You can't give opportunities away. You say, 'Boy, I hope it isn't going to be one of those days.' We made mistakes. We made too many of them."
The Jaguars seemed to have the Titans in check before collapsing in the third quarter. Jacksonville led 14-10 at halftime after methodically scoring in five plays on its first drive and a 33-yard run by running back James Stewart. Tennessee needed a 44-yard kickoff return and an interception negated by a penalty to set up its first touchdown. The Titans recovered two of their own fumbles before a 34-yard field goal with 20 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
"We were playing up-tempo, running in and out of the huddle, making big plays," Jaguars offensive tackle Leon Searcy said. "We were wearing them down in the first half like we wanted to. We had a perfect opportunity to win."
But two major penalties allowed Tennessee to take a 17-14 edge on its opening drive of the third quarter. Jacksonville then fumbled away its next possession and allowed a safety on the following drive. Mason returned the ensuing punt 80 yards for a score that gave the Titans a 26-14 lead with 4:56 remaining.
"I saw a lot of grass and the end zone," Mason said. "As soon as I made the move and made one man miss, I knew I was gone."
And so were Jacksonville's chances. The Jaguars were stopped on fourth down in their next two possessions and by turnovers on the following two series.
Jacksonville limited Tennessee running back Eddie George to 86 yards on 25 carries. However, quarterback Steve McNair was the Jaguars' undoing. McNair scrambled 91 yards on nine carries with two 1-yard touchdowns despite a painful turf toe and completed 14 of 23 passes for 112 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
"I think we did a nice stopping of stopping George, but we couldn't contain McNair," Jaguars linebacker Kevin Hardy said. "He's the guy that beat us today."
Comparatively, the Titans couldn't contain Taylor, who gained 110 yards on 19 carries. Still, it was the first time in eight games this season Jacksonville lost when Taylor gained more than 100 yards. Meanwhile, Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell was a steady 19-for-38 for 226 yards and one touchdown, but he was often pressured into bad passes and threw two interceptions.
"This game was going to come down between Fred Taylor and Eddie George and Steve McNair against Mark Brunell," Titans linebacker Eddie Robinson said. "Steve made the big plays today."

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