One step from Super Bowl

So will September 29 mean anything on January 19? "It was difficult to put that game into perspective for the players," says Titans head coach JEFF FISHER. "That was a very difficult situation." The day after the game, Fisher said, "I would love to play Oakland again. If we have one goal right now, that is to be able to play them again this year."

In Sunday's AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME on CBS-TV at 6:30 PM ET, it will be the TENNESSEE TITANS at the OAKLAND RAIDERS, and everybody will be looking back to this past September 29. 

Will it be different?

Oakland dominated visiting Tennessee that day, 52-25 – tying Carolina (on December 8) for the most points scored by a team this year.  The Raiders jumped to a 21-0 lead barely five minutes into the game and late in the third quarter were ahead 38-7.  Four touchdown passes by Oakland's RICH GANNON and four interceptions by the Oakland defense (three by ROD WOODSON, one for a TD) dropped the Titans to a 1-3 season start that would become 1-4 the next week.  Then, as was typical of this unpredictable NFL season, Tennessee turned things around and lost only one more game the rest of the year. 

So will September 29 mean anything on January 19?

"It was difficult to put that game into perspective for the players," says Titans head coach JEFF FISHER.  "That was a very difficult situation." 

The day after the game, Fisher said, "I would love to play Oakland again.  If we have one goal right now, that is to be able to play them again this year."

Mission accomplished, Jeff.  Let's see what happens this time.

The matchups Sunday are intriguing.

There are the quarterbacks, RICH GANNON of Oakland and STEVE MC NAIR of Tennessee.  Gannon was named by Associated Press as 2002's NFL Most Valuable Player.  McNair proved that he might be just that for the Titans.

Gannon this year set NFL records for completions in a game and a season, and threw for a record 10 300-yard games while leading the team's offense to the No. 1 ranking in the league.  McNair, the inspirational leader of the Titans, could not practice for a good portion of the season due to injuries, yet still was there every Sunday.

"The man, to me, is a legend," says Tennessee running back EDDIE GEORGE.  "I'm glad we were able to advance, so people can really appreciate him."

Then there are the receivers.  Everybody knows Oakland's 40-year-old JERRY RICE (who Sunday tied EMMITT SMITH and THURMAN THOMAS for the most career playoff touchdowns with 21, and set the playoff record for combined net yards with 2,132) and 36-year-old TIM BROWN (who this year became the third man in history with 1,000 career receptions).  But as he proved last Sunday in the Divisional Playoffs, the team's non-starter, 24-year-old JERRY PORTER, has to be reckoned with.  The third-year-pro posted a six-reception, 123-yard day, with a 29-yard touchdown and a 50-yard reception that set up a Rice TD. 

The Titans' receivers?  Their two "third guys" have to be watched also.  The starters are DERRICK MASON (second consecutive 1,000-yard season) and DREW BENNETT.  But on Saturday, the real "go-to" guys were veteran tight end FRANK WYCHECK (10 receptions for 123 yards and a TD) and second-year wide receiver JUSTIN MC CAREINS, who had no catches in regulation, but two key ones in overtime in the Titans' 34-31 Divisional win over Pittsburgh.       

McCareins' performance typifies the mind-set of Tennessee's receivers.  "We've got our philosophy," says Mason.  "You might not catch a pass the whole game, but at the end you might determine who wins or loses."

And speaking about determining who wins or loses…try the running backs on Sunday -- Tennessee's George and Oakland's CHARLIE GARNER.  If they get a hold of the game, they can dominate.  Both are explosive, either pounding it up the middle or breaking outside.  They are among the top five players of the past five years in total scrimmage yards: 

SCRIMMAGE KINGS
(1998-2002)

PLAYER

YARDS

Marshall Faulk

10,482

Curtis Martin

8,376

Eddie George

7,966

Corey Dillon

7,543

Charlie Garner

7,364

So it comes down to Sunday.  Four teams eager to punch their ticket to San Diego.

"These opportunities are few and far between," says Gannon.  "I am trying to seize the moment, seize the opportunity.  Of course, three other teams are trying to do the same thing."


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