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Kearse primed for playoff push

The Titans defensive end could be back to chase Tom Brady tonight.

©Associated Press

December 16, 2002

NASHVILLE -- When Jevon Kearse broke a bone in his left foot in Tennessee's opener against Philadelphia, the Titans hoped they'd still be in the playoff hunt when their star defensive end returned.

Kearse likely should return tonight against the Patriots (he is listed as questionable) and the timing couldn't be better for the Titans: They're 8-5, with seven wins in their past eight games, and they're in control of the AFC South.

New England (8-5) needs to win to stay in contention in the AFC East. The Super Bowl champion Patriots, who have won five of their past six, trail Miami by half a game and the Dolphins own the tiebreaker edge.

Kearse was hurt 48 seconds into the opener, which the Titans won 27-24. So Tom Brady will be the first quarterback Kearse will chase since Sept. 8.

"I'm sure he's well-rested, but hopefully not as well-conditioned," Brady said. "Obviously, we'll probably anticipate him playing. If he's not there, it's a bonus. He's been a good player in the league for a few years now."

The 6-foot-4, 265-pound Kearse has sacked 21 different quarterbacks through his first three seasons, and he has 36 sacks since entering the league in 1999, when he was known as "The Freak" for his speed and athletic ability. Only the New York Giants' Michael Strahan has more sacks in that span (371/2).

After that win against the Eagles, Tennessee lost the next four but has come back strong. Rookie defensive end Carlos Hall pitched in with 61/2 sacks.

"The guys who have been filling in for him have been doing a terrific job," Titans quarterback Steve McNair said. "But just the name of Jevon Kearse in the lineup forces people to worry about where he's at, and it's giving the other guys the opportunities to make plays and to have one-on-one situations."

The key might be how well Brady throws against a defense that has ranks 25th in the league, allowing 237.3 yards a game.

The Titans, who lead the league in time of possession, likely will try to run Eddie George against a defense that's allowing 122.8 rushing yards a game.

Patriots (8-5) at Titans (8-5)

OF NOTE: Neither team can afford to lose. Their playoff hopes might rest on the outcome. Both are coming off 27-17 wins. The Pats would seem to have the edge, having won five straight December games and six of their past eight against the Titans/Oilers franchise. Still, the Titans are playing inspired thanks to the courage of injured QB Steve McNair, who is playing well despite assorted injuries. He has a 120.2 passer rating in his past two games. Expect another gritty effort from the Titans leader in front of the home fans.

DARRELL FRY'S PROMISE: Titans 30, Patriots 27.

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