- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 31, 2000

TITANS 27, REDSKINS 21

The Washington Redskins gave away 14 points last night and never recovered.

After showing increasing dominance each week in the season's first half, the Redskins started the second half on the night before Halloween in frightening fashion. A 69-yard punt return touchdown and 81-yard interception return touchdown staked the Tennessee Titans to a 13-point halftime lead, and Washington never caught up in a 27-21 loss before 83,472 at FedEx Field.

Wide receiver Derrick Mason had the punt return early in the second quarter, while cornerback Samari Rolle made the pick as time expired in the period. Those two plays, combined with 189 yards of Titans offense, were enough to win the hyped "Monday Night Football" matchup.

"It came down to two plays the punt return and the interception," Redskins quarterback Brad Johnson said. "That was the game."

A five-game winning streak for the Redskins (6-3) was snapped, dropping them out of first place in the NFC East. The New York Giants (6-2) lead the division by a half-game. The Titans (7-1) won their seventh straight contest to improve their chances of defending the AFC title and returning to the Super Bowl.

The loss was Washington's second this season on Monday night with one such contest left, Nov. 20 at the potent St. Louis Rams. The Redskins lost to the Dallas Cowboys also by a score of 27-21 on Sept. 18. Last night's battle pitted opponents with winning streaks of five games or more in the regular season for the first time since 1986.

A 3-yard scoring reception by Washington fullback Larry Centers cut Tennessee's lead to 27-21 with 6:42 remaining. Wide receiver Irving Fryar propelled the 79-yard drive with two catches for 37 yards, while tight end Stephen Alexander converted a third-and-10 with a 12-yard reception over strong safety Blaine Bishop.

Tennessee ran off nearly four and half minutes before punting, and Johnson threw his second interception of the game and second to Rolle at the two-minute warning. Washington later got a Hail Mary attempt with two seconds remaining, and that ended the game with Johnson's third pick. Johnson finished 21-for-40 for 202 yards and two touchdowns.

The Titans moved ahead 27-14 with 10:12 left in the fourth quarter, when quarterback Steve McNair hit tight end Frank Wycheck for an 18-yard touchdown pass over the middle. The play came on second-and-goal from the 18, and the Redskins appeared to be burned, as they have throughout the past five weeks, by a tight end against zone pass coverage. Wycheck was a 1993 Redskins sixth-round pick out of Maryland who was released in the 1995 preseason.

After five straight scoreless drives, the Redskins marched 66 yards for a touchdown with 57 seconds left in the third quarter. Stephen Davis' 1-yard scoring run, cutting the Titans' lead to 20-14, came on third down and the drive's 13th play. Alexander converted a third-and-4 with a 6-yard reception, then, on third-and-5, drew a pass-interference penalty in the end zone on linebacker Eddie Robinson.

Rolle put Tennessee up 20-7 at halftime with a miracle interception-return touchdown after time expired. Johnson's pass was intended for Fryar but underthrown. Rolle leaped for the pick, rushed up the right sideline, eluded Chris Samuels, cut back against Johnson and picked up a nice block by two teammates on Jon Jansen to complete the 81-yard score.

"When you're playing a team of their caliber, you can't do what we did in the first half," Redskins coach Norv Turner said. "You can't give them a touchdown at the end of the half. You have to find a way to tackle the guy."

Three-and-a-half minutes earlier, a botched snap by Joe Zelenka forced Redskins punter Tommy Barnhardt to scramble on fourth-and-27. Barnhardt came up well short, and his unnecessary roughness penalty set the Titans up at the Redskins 26. Tennessee drove 22 yards, declining to try a fourth-and-inches at the 4, for a 21-yard field goal to take a 13-7 edge.

"Normally I can get outside. Because they're a return team, I can get a first down," Barnhardt said. "But I forgot that we were sacked twice, and it was fourth and a zillion miles long."

Of the costly penalty, he added: "I've never been involved in anything like that, but I'm definitely not going to take crap like that from people who hit me late. [Linebacker Keith Bulluck] hit me in the jaw and knocked me back down."

With 11:12 remaining in the first half, the Titans took a 10-7 lead on Mason's 69-yard punt return touchdown. The runback came after Tennessee forced a three-and-out on the Redskins, who drove 84 yards for a touchdown on their first possession. Bulluck threw the key early block, and only Redskins linebacker Kevin Mitchell and Barnhardt touched Mason.

"He's so small that a lot of times you can't see him until he gets going," Mitchell said. "And he's fast. When he makes up his mind, he goes."

It was the second touchdown return the Redskins yielded this season, following a 92-yard kickoff return by Carolina's Michael Bates in the opener. Before yesterday's score, Barnhardt's punts had yielded just 94 return yards all season. It was the second career punt return touchdown for Mason, who entered Week 9 as the AFC's top kickoff returner and No. 7 punt returner.

Tennessee used a 10-yard scramble by McNair on third-and-9 to kick-start an 11-play drive for its first score. The 46-yard field goal by Al Del Greco cut Washington's lead to 7-3 with 13:07 left in the first half. Chris Sanders had a key catch, picking up 12 yards when Deion Sanders failed to tackle him on a short crossing route.

The Redskins' offense started with its fourth touchdown of the season on a first possession, then stagnated badly. After picking up 84 yards on the first drive, which lasted 15 plays (plus a penalty) and 8:19, Washington managed just 58 yards the rest of the half.

The Redskins began by holding Tennessee three-and-out and grabbing a 7-0 lead on a 5-yard touchdown pass to fullback Mike Sellers. It was the first time this season the Titans yielded even a first down on their opponents' first drive. The Redskins actually had five first downs on the possession, including third-down conversions of 7, 13, 5 and 5 yards.

Titans feature running back Eddie George, who suffered a first-degree knee sprain Oct. 22 at the Baltimore Ravens, started after a game-time decision that he could play. George has started every game of his career, 72 in all.

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