- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 5, 2002

Like their Coliseum that has been stripped of the Adelphia name that it made famous, the Tennessee Titans are a shell of the team that was the AFC's best from 1999 to 2001.

Tennessee came within inches of taking Super Bowl XXXIV into overtime in the 1999 season and was a league-best 13-3 in 2000 before being upset by Baltimore in its playoff opener. But even last season's disappointing 7-9 record is looking good right now to the reeling Titans.

Right end Jevon Kearse and right cornerback Samari Rolle, both Pro Bowl players and the only remaining defensive starters from the Super Bowl team, are hurt. So is receiver Derrick Mason, who set the NFL record for all-purpose yards in a season in 2000. Halfback Eddie George, long the Titans' biggest weapon, has averaged better than 3.4 yards a carry just four times in 20 games over the last two seasons.

Put all of those woes together and the Titans are 1-3. After rallying to beat Philadelphia in its opener at home, Tennessee was shocked in Dallas, blew a late 14-point lead against visiting Cleveland and was clobbered 52-25 last Sunday in Oakland.

"The record is indicative that we don't feel like we're the team we used to be," said Jeff Fisher, the Titans' coach since November 1994, when they were the Houston Oilers.

The Coliseum isn't the House of Pain for visitors it was during its first two seasons either. The Titans, 16-2 on the banks of the Cumberland River in 1999 and 2000, are 4-6 at home the last two years heading into tomorrow's game against the Washington Redskins.

"We might be in deep trouble," receiver Kevin Dyson said even before the debacle in Oakland during which the Titans fell behind 21-0 before the Raiders had run two plays.

There's no blaming one particular area for Tennessee's failures. Only three teams have worse pass defenses and only two average fewer rushing yards. The Titans have allowed three of the NFL's four punt return touchdowns and have had two onside kicks recovered against them. Typically, Tennessee's successful onside kick was negated by a penalty one of its 36, more than any team has committed other than the expansion Houston Texans.

"Those movies where everything goes wrong for a person that's where we are right now," said linebacker Keith Bulluck, one of the few shining Titans. "We have to turn it around in a hurry. I'm no loser, and I don't feel like I'm playing with any losers."

And although the immediate schedule 1-3 Washington, 2-1 Jacksonville, bye, 0-4 Cincinnati is relatively kind, two games with new AFC South favorite Indianapolis and another against defending Super Bowl champion New England are among the final nine.

"It's no time to push the panic button, but there is a need to push the urgency button," George said.

Apparently Fisher has pushed the "run Eddie" button too many times. The coach and George both maintain that he is fully recovered from the sprained big toe and other injuries that plagued him as he crashed from 1,509 rushing yards in 2000 to 939 last year.

So maybe George's pathetic 2.7 yard average is an indication that after 2,284 carries (including 135 in the playoffs) during his six-plus seasons, George is worn out.

If the 29-year-old George, who ran for more yards in his first six years than all but four backs in NFL history, can't recover his lost oomph, there will be even more pressure on versatile quarterback Steve McNair to do it all for the Titans.

McNair who passed for more than 3,000 yards and ran for more than 500 in 1998 threw for a career-high 398 yards last week, but 248 came after Tennessee had fallen behind 38-7. He also was intercepted four times. The loss of Mason for four weeks makes McNair's task that much harder, even with an offense that still has six Super Bowl starters.

How the mighty have fallen.

"I'm surprised [by] what has happened to them because they have a lot of great players," said Raiders defensive tackle Sam Adams, who battled the Titans five times for the Ravens in 2000 and 2001. "They don't seem to have the confidence they used to have."

That's especially true in the Tennessee secondary, which was riddled by injuries last season and is now again minus its top performer, Rolle. Opposing quarterbacks have torched the Titans for 12 touchdown passes, two more than Tennessee surrendered in all of 2000. After the Browns scored 14 points in the final 5:06 of regulation using the no-huddle, the Raiders started three receivers last week and even threw six times on an eight-play drive after the Titans had cut the deficit to 38-25 with 11:39 remaining.

"If I'm looking at us, I run no huddle all day," Titans strong safety Lance Schulters said. "I throw it 60, 70 times, I throw it until we stop it."

Right now, bad news seems unstoppable for the Titans.

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