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Sunday, December 7, 2008
Despite turnovers and penalties, Titans roll

By Paul Kuharsky
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

 
 Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
 Kerry Collins threw two touchdowns as the Titans routed the Browns 28-9 Sunday to grab the AFC South title for the first time since 2002.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Stephen Tulloch wanted one. Cortland Finnegan had no use for his.

And so a simple handoff went down in the shadowy Titans locker room, where the same electrical problems that took out a Jumbotron meant only about half the lights were working.

While Tulloch acquired an AFC South Championship hat and Michael Griffin proudly wore his high on his head during interviews, most Tennessee players tucked their hats and shirts into their bags -- treats for family or mementos for later when they hope it's a small marker on the road map of a much bigger season.

"I think I'll put it in the closet with the rest of them, I think that's my fourth or fifth one," said cornerback Nick Harper, who jumped to the Titans in 2007 from the Colts, who won the previous five division titles. "I collect them. I've won so many, I never wore the hats. One day I'm going to have a trophy case and put them all up there for the grandkids to see."

Tight end Alge Crumpler enjoyed watching coach Jeff Fisher get a cooler dumped on him late in Tennessee's 28-9 victory over Cleveland, but said the celebration didn't extend far beyond that.

"We came in, said we've got one goal down, and by the time we said a prayer you guys were in the locker room, so we didn't get a chance to do much celebrating," Crumpler said. "If anybody on this team is satisfied, they're in the wrong place."

Long after the Titans finished their part, the Jets' loss in San Francisco assured Tennessee of a first-round playoff bye.

The last two weeks may have shown us as much or more about how bad the Lions and Browns are than about how good the Titans are.

Still, it's no small feat for the home team to survive a season-high three turnovers and season highs in penalties and yards -- 13 for 131 -- and still win by 19 points.

"It wasn't our cleanest game," quarterback Kerry Collins said. "I think a lot of credit has to go to our defense. We put them into some tough situations with the turnovers, hurt ourselves with the penalties, so a lot of credit has to go to them for stepping it up the way they did."

A game that was sailing early got bogged down with chippy play -- 21 total penalties and 30 incomplete passes. But the Titans took command with a stout run defense, a steady diet of carries for their two running backs and third-down success on both sides of the ball.

The Titans were a bit daring on the play of the game that might best symbolize how things line up for them. Down 6-0 and facing a fourth-and-1 from the Cleveland 28-yard line after LenDale White couldn't convert on third-and-1, Collins faked a handoff to White, then threw to fullback Ahmard Hall, who snuck out into the flat. He caught the short throw, raced to the front left corner of the end zone and the Titans were ahead for good.

"Actually it was the best call I think we could have had for the defense they were in, I think they had a 6-2 defense in," Crumpler said. "If we tried to just run it up the gut, we were outmanned. It was a great call at the right time."

Collins said it was a "gutsy" call by offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger and that the Titans hadn't imagined Hall would be open, but planned to throw to one of two crossing receivers.

Just like with the penalties and the turnovers, it all worked out for the best.

At the two-minute warning, the Titans' marketing folks were pitching AFC South Championship gear on the one scoreboard that was working. But Finnegan was not at all excited about his keepsakes.

"That's short-lived man, I don't care about that," he said. "The Houston Texans don't care, that's a division rival coming up."

Other things I noticed, heard or asked about after the game at LP Field...