- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 7, 2001

OWINGS MILLS, Md. From Dec. 9, 1999, through Dec. 25, 2000, Tennessee was the best team in football. The Titans, who came oh so close to beating St. Louis in Super Bowl XXXIV, won 20 of 24 games thanks to an aggressive defense and a grind-it-out offense.
But the Titans are winless since last Christmas. They lost their playoff opener to visiting Baltimore 24-10 in January, started this season with another home loss, 31-23 to Miami, and then fell at Jacksonville 16-13 before having a bye last week.
So today's game at Baltimore (2-1) isn't just about revenge for last season's pair of home losses to the Ravens. The once-dominant Titans badly need to recapture that winning feeling, whether it comes against their archrivals or a high school.
"We've played [only] two games in five weeks," said Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher. "We're excited to finally get back in a rhythm. We want to try to play better and win a game. We know the kind of challenge we have, how well the Ravens are playing and the rivalry that has been established. We certainly respect the Ravens, but I don't see any signs that our guys are intimidated.
"We're not to the point where you put a must-win weekend in front of our players. I thought we were ready for the opener, but obviously we weren't. We were just unable to make plays, and we repeated the same symptoms at Jacksonville."
No offense has been worse at converting third downs. No defense has given up more yards per pass. All but eight teams are scoring more. Only nine teams are allowing more points per game.
Quarterback Steve McNair missed the Jaguars game with a sore shoulder and spent the bye week rehabbing for a fourth straight year. McNair returned to practice last week and is expected to start in Baltimore.
Eddie George, one of only two backs in NFL history to gain 1,200 yards in each of his first five seasons, hasn't been himself with just 128 yards on 38 carries (a 3.4 average).
George, who sat out most of training camp and preseason with a bad toe, is only now getting back to normal. Fisher raved about George's quickness and power in the first half at Jacksonville, when he ran for 71 yards on 12 carries. But after halftime, George produced a mere eight yards on three carries.
"I feel great, the best I've felt since last year," George said. "I have scar tissue in my foot, which is a hindrance at times, but the toe no longer bothers me."
The Titans have 10 other Pro Bowl players, but the 6-foot-3, 240-pound George is the focal point. Tennessee is 22-0 in the regular season when he carries the ball at least 27 times, 28-30 otherwise. The Titans are 22-5 when George rushes for 100 yards, 28-25 when he doesn't.
"We have a lot of leaders on this team, but when it gets right down to it, Eddie's going to be the one who's going to step up," Fisher said.
It was George, not the more senior McNair or 19th-year guard Bruce Matthews, who called a players-only meeting last Thursday.
"Our confidence isn't shaken," George maintained. "If [the Ravens] win, we're 0-3 and we have a tough road to climb back. But even if we lose, I don't think anybody on this team believes that we're knocked out."
Lately, the Ravensled by George's longtime friend, linebacker Ray Lewishave been dealing the knockouts. In his last four full games against Baltimore, George has produced just 237 yards on 86 carries. That's a mere 59 yards per game and 2.8 per carry.
"There is no indecision about me coming to play Eddie or Eddie coming to play me," said the 6-1, 245-pound Lewis, who practiced Friday after missing two days because of tendinitis in an arm but still is listed as questionable. "I know what I am going to get.
The feeling is mutual.
"I have a tremendous respect for Ray," George said. "On the field, he's a terror, probably the best defensive player in the league. He's a great leader. Their defense is different. There aren't too many teams where you can say that everybody from corner to corner can tackle very well. They know what they're doing and they have a lot of confidence. They do a great job of swarming the ball. If you catch the ball at five yards, you're only going to get five yards. It's not too often that you're going to break a tackle."

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide