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Sunday, November 9, 2008
Even without run game, Titans control Bears


Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

CHICAGO -- The pass protection for Kerry Collins was so good Sunday, it seemed unfathomable that he'd taken a hit that produced the gash across the bridge of his nose.

He didn't.

 
  Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
 Titans quarterback Kerry Collins had a season-high 289 yards passing in a win over the Bears.

After his season-best 289-yard passing day and two touchdown throws keyed the Titans' 21-14 win over the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field, Collins explained that the cut was actually a couple of days old, the result of a non-football accident.

"I shot a buck the other night with a muzzle loader, and the thing kicked back and popped me," he said, laughing. "I wish I had a better story. Stuff happens. I got him. He wasn't very big, he was just a little six-pointer, but I got him. It is the first time I've gotten one in a while. I was pretty happy, even though I was bleeding profusely."

The Titans (9-0) are winning profusely.

Many presumed -- the Bears surely included -- that if you force the Titans out of what they favor, you can beat them. The Titans made a pretty strong statement about that not being the case in a Monday night win over Indianapolis a few weeks ago, and a bigger one Sunday.

The hosts swarmed the Titans' offensive line, filling gaps with linebackers and making it impossible for the run-based offense to function on the ground, as it prefers.

"I knew we were going to have to throw it to win, I thought we would all week, but I thought we could mix the run in there," Titans offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger said. "Eventually it was just ridiculous to try to mix the run in there. I mean we set a record against Kansas City for rushing, we probably set a record for inefficiency rushing today, I don't know."

Actually, the Titans had a little wiggle room there. With 20 net yards rushing, they missed the franchise record low by a yard. Twice the Houston Oilers ran for 19 yards in a game, most recently in a loss to San Diego on Dec. 12, 1965.

And so the Titans were largely one-dimensional, and the dimension was hardly the one we associate them with, centered on a quarterback who has been asked to be a game manager first and who had not topped 200 yards through eight games.

"They're just putting so many people down in the box, they're forcing us to beat them these different types of ways," tight end Alge Crumpler said. "We went on the road and proved that we are more than capable of doing it."

The Titans have their first rematch of the season next week with a trip to Jacksonville.

Division games are a different animal, always more difficult no matter the talent or record gap. The Jaguars are probably a playoff long shot, but the city remembers 1999 when its team lost only three games -- all to Tennessee, including the AFC Championship Game.

They are different teams, these are different times, but surely some of the feelings from back then will bubble to the surface as the Titans see if they can make it 10 for 10 and Jacksonville looks for a little revenge for that piece of history.

Other things I noticed, asked about, saw or learned out of this game:

Hester was crazy the last two years with 11 return touchdowns, and you don't want to be risky with him. But take note, please, that Tennessee's Chris Carr entered and exited the game with a better kick-return average, a better punt-return average, and just as many touchdowns this season -- zero.

The Titans didn't kick away from Hester every time, allowing him to touch the ball on special teams on six occasions. Two punt returns produced 13 yards, four kick returns produced 99. Kicker Rob Bironas knocked Hester out of bounds to end his best play of the day, a 41-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter. That drive ended with a Robbie Gould 48-yard field goal attempt that was blocked by Jason Jones.

"Your heart is in your throat every time you put the ball in the air to Devin," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said.

The Titans crushed the Bears in field position: Tennessee's average start was its 43-yard line; Chicago's was its 21.

That wasn't all special teams, of course; a lot of it was defense.

"The field position game hurt us the entire time," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "We played down close to our end zone most of the time and eventually, if you don't get that field position, it will end up leading to points for the opponent and that's what happened."

After Chicago impressively moved 75 yards on 14 plays on its first possession, the Bears gained 168 yards and only 10 more first downs all game.

Still, consistency has always been the question with him and Heimerdinger was reluctant to say the fourth-year receiver has established anything that assures a good performance next week.

"I don't know, it's Brandon," Heimerdinger said, laughing. "He had a great day today, he made some good catches, he ran some good routes. Brandon played real well. But I don't know, I've just got to see what Brandon shows up next week. He's going back out there."

Jones said consistency remains the theme for him.

"Hopefully they'll continue to look my way and we've got to come out here and do it next week," he said.

In the third quarter, on one of their best chances at a big play, Hester had Finnegan beaten by a step running a post, but Rex Grossman couldn't measure the pass correctly and overthrew him. It could have been a 67-yard touchdown if Hester had a chance to catch it in stride.

"I don't know if he's turned into a receiver, but he's an explosive fella down the field and he can run," Finne
gan said of the converted defensive back and return man, before talking a little about how his speed compares. "He can run. This guy right here [pointing at himself] is phenomenally fast and you've got to be on your A game. I was fortunate and blessed [on that play], whichever comes first, whichever one you want to put first."

Hester finished with four catches for 54 yards and he had to slow down to get the biggest in front of Chris Hope, a 29-yard reception that was Chicago's top gain of the afternoon.

First, Jevon Kearse wanted the world to see 9-0 in tape.

And so at the end of the win over Chicago, he turned the 90 on his chest into a makeshift 9-0 with a piece of white tape between the two blue numbers.

"I actually thought about it leaving the field after that last game," Kearse said. "I showed it to teammates, the fans, the camera. I let everybody see it."

Working along with Jacob Ford, Dave Ball was active as a replacement for the injured Kyle Vanden Bosch, recording three tackles and one of the team's two sacks.

Eric King took over at left cornerback when Nick Harper went out with an ankle injury, and King had two big breakups of third-down passes.

The Titans will gauge KVB this week. Keith Bulluck led the team with 10 tackles after not practicing all week with a rib injury. Fisher said it's likely Bulluck will miss this week's practices too.

"I don't know," he said. "You'll have to ask my daughter."