Titans dig big early hole

After two stunning home losses, the Titans finds themseleves in a big hole just three weeks into the season.

Updated: September 26, 2004, 9:01 PM ET
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Jaguars literally and figuratively came to Nashville and took the breath away from the Tennessee Titans.

Quarterback Steve McNair bruised a sternum after falling on a ball during a fourth-quarter run. The trainer wouldn't permit McNair to hold his usual post-game press conference because McNair had trouble breathing. X-rays were negative, but McNair stayed overnight at a Nashville hospital.

Fred Taylor's one-yard touchdown run with nine seconds remained to clinch the 15-12 upset left Titans coach Jeff Fisher breathless. The Jaguars had a first-and-goal at the 1 with 42 seconds left. A first-down run came short of the goal line, but officials spent forever trying to sort out the pile.

We knew what type of game it would be. For some strange reason, we couldn't get it going. We didn't finish the game. Jacksonville finished the game. They played like a team that is 3-0. We played like a team that is 1-2.
Derrick Mason, Titans WR

Fisher kept signaling for a timeout but it was too noisy for anyone to hear him, and the clock continued to run.

"I told the official if they were short, I wanted a timeout," Fisher said. "I continued to try to get the timeout. I didn't know if he was in. They can wait 15 to 20 seconds to make their decision. He (referee Larry Nemmers) never looked back for me and you do not have any opportunity to communicate with your defense. I was signaling timeout to our defensive players. I was sure Keith Bulluck saw me or a couple others saw me, but they (the officials) didn't see me."

The clock clicked down to 13 seconds. Taylor scored from the one with nine seconds left and the Titans were toast. Fisher was furious but not only at the officials. His Titans are 0-2 at home, 1-2 on the season. McNair has a sternum injury similar to one he suffered 2000 when he missed a start and struggled with pain for weeks. Safety Lance Schulters suffered a bad foot injury that wasn't a break but left him in a boot after the game.

Worse than anything else, the Titans, who lost their edge to the Colts last year, now find themselves two games behind the Jaguars in the division.

"I think you can look at a lot of areas of this football game and draw conclusions," Fisher said. "But I'm going to draw a conclusion right now. What's most important is playing winning football. That is not what we are doing, and it's not what we have been doing the last two weeks."

The injury list looked as bleak as the result. Linebacker Rocky Boiman has a medial collateral knee ligament sprain. So does defensive end Antwan Odom. The team was missing wide receiver Tyrone Calico, linebacker Rocky Calmus and guard Zach Piller because of injuries.

Fisher refused to use injuries as an excuse.

Tennessee is 1-2 with two home losses for a different reason than just injuries. The Titans aren't playing like the Titans.

"We didn't tackle," Fisher said. "We're not getting production out of several positions. We didn't tackle."

After holding the Jaguars offense to four three-and-out possessions in the first six series, the Titans allowed the Jaguars to pile up 176 yards on their final 27 plays, more than six yards a play.

Taylor started busting inside runs to the outside and ended up with 81 yards on 17 carries. Backup LaBrandon Toefield came off the bench to get 43 yards on seven carries. Overall, the Titans allowed an uncharacteristic 136 yards rushing on 29 carries.

"Jacksonville did some things going into the second half and we didn't answer," safety Tank Williams said. "We were trying to make corrections to get them clogged up. They were able to rack up some yardage on us early on in the second half and put them in position to score."

Jaguars quarterback Byron Leftwich spread the field with three- and five receiver sets and caught the Titans being undisciplined. The five-receiver sets weren't a problem. The Titans stuffed them everytime.

"Their success in the running game came on the three-receiver sets," defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said. "They worked the cutback runs and bounced plays outside. The two things we stressed during the week was watch the cutback lanes and watch for the inside plays that bounce outside. That's what Fred Taylor does best."

The Titans thought they had won the game when Chris Brown broke a 26-yard run in the fourth quarter to give them a 12-7 lead. Brown rushed for 101 yards on 23 carries, his third 100-yard game in three weeks. Brown broke the Jaguars streak of 17 games of not allowing a 100-yard rusher.

"Up until this point, no one had scored points on them," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "We knew what type of game it would be. For some strange reason, we couldn't get it going. We didn't finish the game. Jacksonville finished the game. They played like a team that is 3-0. We played like a team that is 1-2."

If the Titans can't catch their breath in San Diego and Green Bay the next two weeks, they could be 1-4 and in serious trouble of falling out of playoff contention early.

John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer

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