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Titans advance on second try

AFC: TITANS 34, STEELERS 31 (OT): Penalty gives Joe Nedney another shot to make the winning field goal.

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 12, 2003

NASHVILLE -- The Titans didn't need another Music City Miracle -- just a few kicks and a helpful call from the latest officiating crew to make playoff headlines.

After a series of kicks -- some counted, some didn't -- Joe Nedney made a 26-yard field goal 2:15 into overtime that gave the Titans a 34-31 AFC semifinal victory over the Steelers on Saturday.

Officiating, in the news all week, once again played a key role in the final outcome.

Steelers coach Bill Cowher sprinted across the field and shouted at referee Ron Blum after the winning kick. As the Titans celebrated, Cowher claimed he called a timeout before the kick.

But the kick stood -- a kick that was the result of a penalty on the previous play by cornerback Dewayne Washington. He drew a 5-yard flag for running into Nedney, giving the kicker another chance, and he put the winner right down the middle.

That gave the Titans the franchise's first victory in four playoff games against Pittsburgh, and put them into the AFC Championship Game against the winner of today's game between the Jets and the Raiders.

For Pittsburgh and comeback specialist Tommy Maddox, it was another playoff failure for a team that was favored to go to the Super Bowl when the season started.

"For a game to be decided on that call is ludicrous," Cowher said. "A game can't be decided because a kicker takes two steps and we have someone slide into him. We had some chances to win but we had some taken away from us, too."

That's exactly how the Giants felt after losing a playoff game against the 49ers Jan. 5. The next day, the NFL said officials made the wrong call on the final play.

Asked about the penalty he called, Blum merely explained the difference between running into the kicker and roughing.

As for the timeout, he said: "I wasn't aware that they were, but one of my co-officials said that the request came after the ball was snapped."

McNair was 27-for-44 for 338 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another in a game that was nearly as dramatic as the Music City Miracle against Buffalo three years ago, when the Titans won on a near-impossible kickoff return in the final seconds.

Steelers captain Jason Gildon said he asked umpire Chad Brown for the timeout and was told they didn't have any. Gildon said, "Then I pointed to the scoreboard and we had two left. ... It's another example of officials just not being at the top of their game."

Nedney, who missed from 48 yards on the final play of regulation, thought he'd blown it when he missed from 31: "We don't get second chances very often and I didn't expect another one. Sorry if I gave everybody gray hairs."

This one was a hard-hitting game that sidelined Plaxico Burress (hip) and Kendrell Bell (ankle) of Pittsburgh and Eddie George (concussion) of Tennessee -- the kind of game the rivals have played since the one-time Houston Oilers were the Steelers' biggest thorns in the late 1970s.

Nedney converted a tying 42-yarder with 5:40 remaining after Jeff Reed's 40-yarder put Pittsburgh up 31-28.

The Titans got the ball first in overtime.

A missed tackle by Washington led to a big play and the Titans were quickly in field-goal range.

With the Steelers calling a timeout, Nedney kicked a field goal that sent fireworks shooting over the stadium. But the kick did not count, and Nedney laughed as he lined up again.

He missed -- but the penalty, in which he tumbled dramatically to the turf as Washington brushed across his leg, gave him another chance and left Cowher covering his face in anger and frustration.

On the next play, Nedney kicked it down the middle.

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