George-led Titans find way to make up ground

Defense contains McNair, but Tennessee prevails with 165 rushing yards

Titans 20 Ravens 17

January 04, 2004|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN STAFF

If the Ravens' game plan was to not let league co-Most Valuable Player Steve McNair beat them through the air yesterday, they achieved their goal.

Unfortunately for the Ravens, they never bargained on Eddie George and the Tennessee Titans' running game having such a big impact.

To a man, the Ravens felt their season came to a frustrating 20-17 end yesterday at M&T Bank Stadium because of their inability to stop the Titans on the ground.

"They stuck to their game plan and we weren't able to stop them running the ball," outside linebacker Cornell Brown said. "Definitely that was the difference right there."

The Titans came into yesterday's AFC wild-card game averaging 101.4 rushing yards a game, which ranks 26th in the league.

They had 165 yards on the ground behind George (25 carries, 88 yards) and rookie Chris Brown (11 carries, 61 yards).

McNair, the Titans' quarterback, also rushed four times for 16 yards as the running game helped Tennessee secure a 10-minutes-plus edge in time of possession.

"Everyone is capable," Ravens safety Ed Reed said. "They have great players, a great running back, a great offensive line, and you tip your hat to those guys for what they did. We don't expect to give up what we gave up [on the ground], but it happens."

Not this season. Before last night, the most rushing yards allowed came on Nov. 16, when the Ravens surrendered 141 yards to Ricky Williams and the Miami Dolphins.

During the season, the Ravens' defense, ranked sixth in the league against the run, averaged only 96 yards allowed a game. They gave up 3.4 yards a carry, but that figure ballooned to 4.1 yesterday.

Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis didn't seem surprised -- "You give up one thing [Titans running game], but you take away another [McNair]," he said -- but the other Ravens did.

"We didn't expect them to run the ball like they did," defensive end Marques Douglas said. "Eddie George might not have had 1,500 yards or he might not be the back he once was, but he's still a 1,000-yard rusher and you have to respect that."

During the week, George, who had had virtually no success against the Ravens in recent meetings, was predictably overshadowed by Jamal Lewis, the Ravens' record-setting back.

George returned in the second half from a separated shoulder he suffered early in the second quarter tackling Reed on an interception return.

"If anybody gave us a chance to run the football like we did today, it shows you what playoff football is all about," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said.

Added Titans receiver Derrick Mason: "Our offense did an excellent job of going right at Ray Lewis. ... They can keep talking about Ray Lewis, but he's at home right now and we're advancing into the playoffs."

Lewis, who renewed his intense rivalry with George on several occasions, made 17 tackles, but the Titans still got their yards.

"We couldn't stop the run today," defensive end Tony Weaver said. "That's been our trademark all year. In a million years, I would have never thought they would run for as many yards as they did."

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