The Tennessee Titans didn’t slap
high-fives with fans as they left the field. Most didn’t even
bother to show off their T-shirts and hats commemorating their
first AFC Central title since 1993.
But then the Titans never worried about not making the playoffs.
The Titans secured the AFC’s top seed, a bye week and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs Monday night by beating the Dallas Cowboys 31-0 in a game where their defense shined by forcing four turnovers to finish as the NFL’s best.
“We talked about hitting a peak at the end of the year,” Titans end Kenny Holmes said. “I think we’re starting to peak right now. Hopefully, we’re just getting better every day.”
Defense Stars in Game
The Titans already feature the NFL’s best record at 13-3 and possibly the toughest home-field advantage in the league at Adelphia Coliseum where they are 16-1 the past two seasons.
“We like our chances at home,” receiver Yancey Thigpen said. “We have a great record at home, and I think the guys really are going to work hard to take advantage of it.”
The Titans put on a show in the third quarter, this time with their defense.
They led only 7-0 after a first half in which they turned the ball over four times, but they made up for it in less than 13 minutes.
Linebacker Randall Godfrey forced two fumbles and recovered a third, end Henry Ford fell on a ball and ran 30 yards before diving in for a touchdown, and rookie linebacker Keith Bulluck walked into the end zone with an 8-yard interception return.
Al Del Greco tacked on a 21-yard field goal that left the Titans up 31-0 with 2:36 left in the third quarter.
“The momentum swung, the crowd got into the game more, and it was a very merry Christmas in Tennessee,” Bulluck said.
Cowboys Coach Salutes Titans
Granted, Dallas featured Anthony Wright at quarterback in only his second NFL start with Troy Aikman watching on the sidelines. But they had Emmitt Smith in the game with a chance to pass Barry Sanders for No. 2 on the career rushing list if he rushed for 124 yards.
He got only 20 yards on 12 carries as the Titans, knowing they could pass the Ravens for honors as the NFL’s stingiest defense, gave up just 95 yards total in their second straight shutout after beating the Cleveland Browns 24-0 last week.
Titans safety Blaine Bishop said he has never played with a better defense. Dallas coach Dave Campo was impressed.
“When they jump into their blitz package, it’s tough, and they blitzed us all through the game without backing off at all. They’re a very good football team defensively, probably the best defensive football team in the league,” Campo said.
The Titans finished with 374 yards of offense and held onto the ball in the second half. Steve McNair, who was 17-of-23 for 188 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions, left in the third quarter after his left ankle became sore.
Titans coach Jeff Fisher also pulled Eddie George in the third quarter eight carries short of breaking Jamal Anderson’s NFL record of 410 carries in a season.
Weak Season for Dallas
The Cowboys had every excuse to give up even before the game started. But they didn’t quit and even tried to jump on the Titans on the opening kickoff with an onsides kick that Michael Wiley recovered for Dallas.
Not even that helped as Dallas finished off its worst season since 1989 when the Cowboys went 1-15 in Jerry Jones’ first season as owner. Smith called it the end of a frustrating season, and Jones said they could have had a chance if they had avoided some of their injuries.
“That’s not an excuse. It’s a fact,” Jones said. “So I will have to do some head-scratching and see how we go from here because we have some players that my concern is more about their health than it is frankly about some other team issues.”