Nailbiter in Nashville

October 14 - QB Brad Johnson led the Tampa Bay offense down the field twice to score 14 points in the last 6:00 of the fourth quarter and send their game against Tennessee into overtime. But the Bucs fell short of escaping Tennessee with a win, 31-28.

The Tennessee Titans beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for their initial win of the 2001 campaign by the score of 31-28 in overtime on a crisp autumn day at Adelphia Stadium before an overflow crowd of 68,798. The victory was sealed when kicker Joe Nedney booted his third field goal in four attempts of over 40-plus yards, this one a 49-yarder from the right hash, that moved the Titans to 1-3 and dropped the Bucs to 2-2. The Pewter Pirates did try to grasp victory from the jaws of defeat with the help of some Tennessee miscues as well as a friendly call from the guys in the striped shirts.

On all four of the Bucs scoring drives the Titans had a penalty that allowed the Buccaneers to continue to matriculate the football down the field. On the first three possessions, Tennessee committed different infractions on fourth down. On the first, defensive tackle Josh Evans was flagged for encroachment when he thought long snapper Sean McDermott moved the football. On the second, cornerback Michael Booker was called for offside when he tried to anticipate the snap on a punt. On the third, cornerback DeRon Jenkins was whistled for interference on wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, who had four of his eight catches going for first downs, giving the Bucs a fresh set of downs. On the final drive, a Jenkins interception was negated when defensive end Kevin Carter lined up in the neutral zone.

The officials also had a kind spot in the heart for the Bucs. After an apparent touchdown when quarterback Steve McNair, who was 15-of-25 for 230 with a touchdown as well as an interception through the air and had 54 yards on nine carries with a TD on the ground, hit wide receiver Kevin Dyson, who had two catches for 13 yards and a touchdown, over the outstretched arm of cornerback Brian Kelly. Just before the Titans kicked the extra point the Bucs called a timeout to ask for a review of the play. Referee Dick Hantak ruled that Dyson had brushed the pylon with his foot and was out-of-bounds. He could not be the first player to touch the football after he came back inbounds so the reception was ruled as an incomplete pass. The Bucs challenge was upheld and it was a huge point because it forced the Titans to settle for thrre points instead of seven.

The Titans scored first on their opening possession and with relative ease. After forcing the Bucs to punt after a three-and-out on their initial series, the Titans took over at the Bucs 39-yard line. Four plays later McNair hit Dyson on a 1-yard pass after a great play-action fake to running back Eddie George, who rushed for 85 yards on 29 carries with a TD and caught three passes for 47 yards, going off the right side at 11:39 of the opening quarter. The successful point after touchdown was booted by Nedney and after only 1:56 of clock time the Titans were up 7-0. The big play in the drive was a 36-yard pass from McNair to wide receiver Justin McCareins, who finished with two grabs for 70 yards, to the one-yard line.

Tennessee had a chance to bury the Bucs early. On their second drive of the game the Titans moved down the field. Only a holding call on guard Zack Piller as he tried to keep defensive tackle Warren Sapp, who recorded his first sack in 2001 season, slowed the Titans down. On third-and-12 McNair went to tight end Frank Wycheck, who led the Titans with four catches for 38 yards, but linebacker Derrick Brooks stepped in front of the ball to record his second interception of the season and 11th of his career. The Pewter Pirates dodged a big bullet here.

The Bucs answered the Tennessee score on their next possession. Running back Warrick Dunn, who had 16 yards rushing on 10 carries and 65 receiving yards on seven receptions with a touchdowns both running and catching, bounced to the right and stiff-armed Jenkins on the way to a five-yard TD run with 11:49 left in the second quarter. The 12 play, 79-yard excursion took 5:57 of clock time and knotted the score at seven apiece.

Tennessee immediately proceded to put up 10 unanswered points on the next two times they had the pigskin. The first score was a one-yard sneak by McNair at 3:57 of the second stanza that culminated a 13 play, 80 yard drive that took 7:52 to complete. The second was Nedney¹s first field goal, a 44-yarder, that split the uprights as time expired in the first half. Reserve quarterback Neil O¹Donnell, who went 3-of-3 for nine yards while subbing for an injured McNair, finished the 10 play, 62 yard drive that ate up the last 2:36 of the second quarter and gave the Titans a comfortable 17-7 lead going to the locker room at halftime.

After forcing the Titans to punt on the second possession of the second half Tampa Bay closed the gap to three points at 2:56 of the third quarter. Quarterback Brad Johnson, who was 24-of-50 for 287 yards with three touchdowns and an interception, hit Dunn on a perfectly conceived screen pass. He followed stellar blocks by wide receivers Keyshawn Johnson, who led the Bucs with eight cathes for 140 yards, and Jacquez Green, who chipped in with six catches for 72 yards and a TD, and outraced strong safety Blaine Bishop to the right corner of the end zone. Gramatica¹s successful PAT finished the 13 play drive that brought the Bucs to within a field goal at 17-14. The 97 yard drive was a franchise record that eclipsed the old mark of 95 yards set last week against the Green Bay Packers. It was also Johnson¹s first touchdown pass and Dunn¹s initial touchdown reception of the 2001 season.

For the second time in the game Tennessee went on a double-digit scoring run on consecutive possessions after a Tampa Bay score. At 12:57 of the fourth quarter the Titans had to seetle for a 45-yard Nedney field goal instead of the aforementioned Dyson touchdown. That ended a 10 play, 43-yard drive that took 4:59 off the game clock. The second score was on a knifing George run over the left side from four yards out at 7:53 of the final quarter. The two-point conversion, McNair hitting Dyson on a quick slant, finished the 6 play, 50 yard drive that took 3:20 to complete. This put the Titans up 28-14 and the Bucs looked dead in the water.

Tampa Bay went on their own double-digit scoring run by posting a quick 14 points as the Pewter Pirates went to a no-huddle two-minute offense. Green latched on to his first 2001 TD reception, a six yard aerial in the middle of the end zone, at 5:09 of the last period. The 8 play, 80-yard drive took 2:24 of clock time. Gramatica¹s successful PAT cut the lead in half to 28-21. The second score was a Johnson-to-tight end Dave Moore, who also caught his first TD of the year, from five-yards out with 1:14 left. The 11 play, 62 yard sojourn into enemy territoy tied the game, after Gramatica PAT, at 28 all and set the stage for overtime. The Titans had a chance to bury the Bucs. Nedney missed a 48-yarder that was wide right and the Bucs still had a pulse though it was a faint one.

The Bucs won the toss in overtime but, from that point on, the Buccaneers were snakebitten. After a holding penalty moved the Buccanerrs to the shadow of their own goal line at the nine-yard line. A three-and-out series and a short punt by Royals the Titans were in business at the Bucs 35-yard line. Five plays and 14 yards later the Titans put the Buccaneers out of their misery with a 49 field goal.

The same problem befell the Bucs as it did in Minnesota. The Titans were the worst team in the NFL on third down efficientcy, 17 percent, and the Bucs were the league¹s worst in preventing third down conversions allowing 50 percent. Something had to give and it was the Bucs who allowed Tennessee to convert 8-of-16 third down plays for an even 50 percent.

It was nice to see the Bucs offense score points but it was too little and too late. Hopefully, the offense has learned that they must be focused from the beginning and not wait for the last seven minutes to kick it into gear.

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