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AFC

Titans lose the game, but win lot of respect

By ANTONYA ENGLISH, MARC TOPKIN
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 20, 2003

OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Titans came into Network Associates Coliseum seeking the respect they believed had eluded them all season.

With no Pro Bowl selections and plenty of naysayers, Tennessee wanted to prove it was as good as the league's elite teams. The Titans wanted to prove they belonged in the Super Bowl.

Instead, they walked away one game short but with their pride intact.

"I have nothing but great feelings for my football team," coach Jeff Fisher said. "They have great character, especially for what they did this year. It was not our time. We had a chance to win this game. We will be back next year."

Quarterback Steve McNair epitomized the Titans' resolve, playing injured much of the season. He didn't practice last week because of an injured thumb on his throwing hand. He rushed for 53 yards and two touchdowns. He completed 21 of 36 passes for 194 yards and one touchdown, earning the respect of teammates and Raiders.

"Steve is a warrior," tight end Frank Wycheck said. "He went out there and took one of the hardest hits I have seen him take on the first touchdown run. Once again, he's giving up his body for the team."

Added Raiders coach Bill Callahan: "They came in here and they poured their hearts out on the field, and it's pretty indicative of Steve McNair's play, how he came out and just played like a true warrior today. He had no quit in him, no die in him and he continued to make plays."

FLAGS, FLAGS: Maybe they were caught up in the hype surrounding the game. Or maybe it was just sheer stupidity. But the Raiders helped the Titans to 10 of their 17 first-half points with personal fouls.

Early in the second quarter with the Titans facing third and 8 on Oakland's 35-yard line, linebacker Eric Barton was flagged for unnecessary roughness. The call negated the Titans' false start penalty, giving Tennessee a first down and leading to a 29-yard field goal by Joe Nedney.

Later, with the Titans driving, Raiders linebacker Bill Romanowski was penalized for a head-butt, giving the Titans a first down on the 2. Tennessee scored two plays later, taking a 17-14 lead with 2:47 left in the half.

"For whatever reason they were calling every penalty known to man out there," defensive end Regan Upshaw said. "They just didn't want to let us go out and play football."

AILING TITANS: With 2:39 left in the first half, Nedney was injured when he attempted to make a tackle on a kickoff return. He missed the second half and is scheduled for an MRI today. Defensive end Jevon Kearse did not start, still hurting from a broken left foot that had hampered him most of the season.

The former All-American at Florida missed 12 games during the regular season, but returned Dec. 16. Kearse started in the Jan. 18 playoff game against Pittsburgh but missed several days of practice last week.

Carlos Hall, a rookie from Arkansas, started in Kearse's place. Kearse, the third player with 10 or more sacks in each of his first three seasons, was limited and didn't have a tackle in the first half. The Titans said last week they hoped to get 25-30 plays from Kearse.

TAKING ADVANTAGE: Oakland tight end Doug Jolley started after Roland Williams was placed on injured reserve. Jolley made the most of his opportunity, scoring on a 1-yard pass from Rich Gannon that gave the Raiders a four-point lead with one minute left in the first half.

CRANK IT UP: Fans in the Network Associates Coliseum parking lot, some of whom had been there partying since Thursday, got a treat Sunday afternoon: An unannounced concert by heavy-metal band Metallica.

The band's presence, and a few consumed malt beverages, got the fans even more fired up about a potential showdown with the Bucs and Jon Gruden.

"We want Tampa," said Joe Navarro of Watsonville, Calif. "We want Gruden against his own team. He built this team, dude." Added Sam Torres of Oakland: "I want Tampa because I want to beat him."

WHERE ARE YOU FROM?: Raiders owner Al Davis didn't want to talk about playing against Gruden in the Super Bowl.

And he had an odd way to express it, asking if a Times reporter was from Afghanistan.

"I want to play in the Super Bowl, I'm not here for that," he said when asked about Gruden. "Hey, look, I'm not going to talk. Get Coach Callahan, he's the hero, and get all the players. That's what you want.

"I don't even know who you are, really, and you're asking me questions. I don't know if you're from Florida. You could be from Afghanistan. I'll see you later. But thank you for coming over and being interested."

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