0-2 Tennessee seeks reversal of misfortune

Injuries, running game are factors in shaky start

October 07, 2001|By Jim Wyatt | Jim Wyatt,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The Tennessee Titans began the 2001 season as a Super Bowl contender.

With 13-win seasons each of the past two years and the off-season acquisition of former St. Louis Rams defensive end Kevin Carter, it was a tough point to argue.

But just two games into the season, the Titans are winless and scrambling for life preservers with more rough waters ahead, starting with today's game against the Ravens.

"It makes very clear sense that we need to win a football game right now and just don't pay attention to what's been said. I think the only way we can approach this is as if it's a 14-game season now," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. "Playoffs, division, those things don't even enter our mind."

How did the Titans wind up in such a state with so much talent? In some ways, the Titans haven't fully recovered from January's playoff loss to the Ravens in Nashville. The Titans had defeated the Ravens, 14-6, in late October in Baltimore, but the Ravens beat them twice in Nashville in the following months. And then there is a new set of on-field problems.

Quarterback Steve McNair injured his right shoulder in the team's season-opening loss to the Dolphins, and he didn't play the following week when the Titans lost at Jacksonville, with Neil O'Donnell at quarterback. McNair has practiced this week and is expected to play.

The Titans' running game has struggled partly because the offensive line hasn't been in sync, although Pro Bowl running back Eddie George hasn't reached top form either. George has just 128 yards rushing.

The team also hasn't been making plays when needed. In the 13-6 loss to Jacksonville, the Titans converted just one of 14 third-down opportunities (7 percent), and are just 5-for-28 (18 percent) overall.

"We are going to stick together, and we can't point fingers," George said. "We have to find the problem and find the solution to the problem and get it solved quickly. ... We are in a little bit of a hole, but it's nothing that we can lose our heads over and start to press. We have to continue to believe in the system and continue to believe in each other."

Defensively, the Titans have played reasonably well, though the much-anticipated sack attack of defensive ends Carter and Jevon Kearse hasn't produced big results - Kearse has two sacks and Carter has none. The Titans have just three sacks after setting a franchise record with 55 a year ago.

"I don't think it's time to panic, but ... when we're in Baltimore we are going to find out a lot about ourselves," cornerback Samari Rolle said. "We lose that one, yeah, with Tampa Bay coming in after that, you've got to be honest. ... It's time to pull out all stops."

And the Titans hardly expect the Ravens to hold anything back.

"I'm sure they would love to get us 0-3 and have us looking up all the way to the end, there's no doubt about that," Titans safety Blaine Bishop said. "We have to keep that from happening."

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