Tennessee waltzes past Packers 26-20

NASHVILLE - In the trenches, where it counts the most in the NFL, the Tennessee Titans thrashed the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.<p> The Titans got dominating performances from their defensive and offensive lines and manhandled the Packers 26-20 before a crowd of 68,805 at Adelphia Coliseum.<p> The loss knocked Green Bay out of the driver's seat in the NFC Central Division race. The Chicago Bears beat Tampa Bay on Sunday, clinched a playoff berth, and took a one-game lead on the Packers.<p>

"I want the team to be disappointed because we were in the driver's seat when the day started and no we're not," said Packers head coach Mike Sherman. "I want them to be hurting because this was an opportunity missed. But I don‘t want them to be embarrassed. There is still three games left and we have time to get things back on track."

The team could start by getting the offense back in sync. The offensive line played terrible, struggling to open holes for running back Ahman Green and to protect quarterback Brett Favre.

Green, who came into the game leading the NFC with 1,091 yards, left Tennessee with 1,100 yards.

Led by defensive ends Jeavon Kearse and Kevin Carter, the Titans defense limited Green to 9 yards on 9 carries. His longest run was five yards. In fact, Favre led the team in rushing with 20 yards on five carries.

"Kearse is pretty damn good, and Carter is pretty damn good," Favre said. "They played outstanding today. That wasn't the team that played against Minnesota last week. They created a lot of problems for us." "They did a great defensive job on our run," Sherman said. "They started us with a eight-man front, and they got good penetration. We didn't get the job done."

The defense did not get the job done at all. They allowed the Titans to roll up 423 yards in offense. Quarterback Steve McNair - facing absolutely no pass rush - completed 25 of 35 passes for 285 yards and two touchdowns.

"Tennessee played a great game," Favre said. "Steve had an outstanding game and I told him that after the game. When you lose to a guy who plays like that, what else are you going to do?" But it was backup running back Skip Hicks who did the most damage. He waltzed his way for 142 yards on 17 carries. He scored a 22-yard touchdown to give the Titans a 26-13 lead in the fourth quarter. He then put the game away with a 49-yard run on third-and-5 from the Titans 19 with less than two minutes left and the Packers trailing 26-20.

"Our defense put our offense in some tough situations," Sherman said. "We had to do some makeshift work at linebacker, but they definitely were on the field too much."

The failure by both lines started almost immediately. After the teams traded punts on their first possessions, former Packer Craig Hentrich uncorked a 70-yard punt that pinned Green Bay at its 1-yard line with 11:40 left in the first period. On the Packer's first play, Green tried to run up the middle, but Kearse smothered Green in the end zone for a safety and a 2-0 Titans lead. The Packers defense forced a Titans punt after the free kick, and Green Bay drove 36 yards in 10 plays to the Tennessee 14, where Longwell kicked a 32-yard field goal to give the Packers a 3-2 lead with 5:31 left in the quarter.

Defensive end Vonnie Holliday sacked McNair with 2:21left in the quarter, and forced a fumble that Holliday recovered at the Titans 21. Four plays later, Favre found Donald Driver in the middle of the end zone for a 7-yard touchdown pass. The Packers led 10-2 with 1:19 left in the period.

The Titans responded with a 10-play, 60-yard drive that finished with McNair connecting with fullback Mike Green for a 4-yard touchdown. A two-point conversion attempt to tie the game failed when safety Tod McBride knocked down McNair's pass at the line of scrimmage.

After a Packers punt, the Titans drove at the Green Bay 26, but Joe Nedney missed a 44-yard field goal to the left with 3:40 left in the half, and the Packers retained their 10-8 lead.

But the lead disappeared in a flurry of plays. First Kearse beat left tackle Chad Clifton, sacked Favre and forced a fumble that the Titans recovered at the Packers 35. On the next play, McNair hit Derrick Mason with a 35-yard touchdown pass. Mason wrestled the ball away from Tyrone Williams in the end zone, and the score gave Tennessee a 15-10 lead with 2:36 left in the half.

After the kickoff, Favre attempted a screen pass to Green in the left flat. But Kearse again blew up the play and smashed into Green as the ball arrived. Titans linebacker Eddie Robinson lunged and grabbed the ball for the interception at the Packers 32.

"We knew coming in that they had a good defense," said Clifton, who tried in vain to stop Kearse. "They came out and played well. We didn't do some things very well."

The Packers defense stiffened, sacking McNair twice and forcing an incomplete pass on third down. The Packers got the ball back at their 39 with 53 seconds left. Favre hit Green twice and stopped the clock with two seconds left at the Titans 36. From there, Longwell drilled a 54-yard field goal as time expired in the half to cut the lead to 15-13.

In the third quarter, the Titans held the ball for 11:16 in the period and got a 24-yard field goal from Joe Nedney to extend their lead to 18-13. The Packers failed to get a first down as the fourth quarter started, and punted. Hicks gained 50 yards on five carries on the next drive, finishing with a 22-yard touchdown against an exhausted Packers defense with 10:39 left.

Favre (21-of-29, 201 yards, two touchdowns, one interception) revived the Packers momentarily with an 8-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a 16-yard scoring pass to Bill Schroeder with 6:42 left in the game to cut the lead to 26-20.

"We knew we needed two scores, and that was one of them," Schroeder said. "The defense did a great job to stop them, and we just thought we would go get the next one."

On the drive, the Packers survived an offensive pass interference call and an illegal forward pass penalty as Favre hit Schroeder for 32 yards on third-and-24 and Antonio Freeman for 24 yards.

The Packers defense forced a punt on the next Titans possession, and Favre drove the Packers to the Tennessee 46. He threw incomplete twice and the Packers punted with 2:06 left.

The Titans took over and faced a third-and-5 at their 19 with 1:48 left. Hicks took the handoff, veered right and streaked 49 yards down the right sideline to the Green Bay 29. The Titans then ran out the clock for the win.

"We're still sitting all right," said offensive lineman Mark Tauscher. "It's not exactly where we want to be, but we're not too far off from it."


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