Titans 34, Rams 13
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Vince Young and LenDale White both have healthy legs, and rookie Chris Johnson gave a glimpse of why Tennessee drafted him in the first round. The Titans' passing game remains a work in progress.
Keith Bulluck intercepted a tipped pass and returned it 13 yards for a touchdown, and Johnson zipped up the middle 66 yards for a TD and the Titans beat the St. Louis Rams 34-13 on Saturday night in the exhibition opener for both teams.
"I'm sure that was their worst nightmare," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said of Johnson, the 24th pick overall out of East Carolina, a draft selection heavily criticized at the time.
"That's why he's here. It's nice to have that talent as a weapon on offense when you have someone who can just go like he can. I would like to think this is not just an isolated play. I'd like to think we're going to see more of those out of him."
With St. Louis running back Steven Jackson holding out, the Rams had little offense. Tennessee picked off one pass by Marc Bulger, sacked his backups three times and held the Rams to 76 yards rushing compared to 340 by the Titans.
"We're not as good as we think we are," Bulger said. "We've got some things to work on."
St. Louis coach Scott Linehan wasn't in the mood to listen to excuses coming off last year's 3-13 season.
"I don't care who's in there whether it's the third-teamers or the rookies. I just want to see the true grit of our football team come out as we move forward," Lineman said.
Bullock said the Titans were a little upset at being told the Rams had manhandled them during two days of joint practices this week.
"We definitely wanted to go out there and make sure we didn't get manhandled tonight. Definitely, I think we did decent," he said.
Tennessee moved the ball at ease with 495 yards of offense. Johnson had 100 yards combined himself.
John Vaughn filled in for All Pro kicker Rob Baronies, out with a pulled groin muscle, by making field goals of 48 and 43 yards. Quinton Ganther, a seventh-round pick in 2006 who has played four games with the Titans, scored twice on runs of 45 and 2 yards.
Young, who played with a sore quadriceps muscle most of 2007, broke loose for a 35-yard run that was his longest since his rookie season. White had torn cartilage surgically repaired in his left knee after rushing for 1,110 yards last year. He ran six times for 33 yards but was stopped on fourth-and-1 on the opening drive.
Fisher hired coordinator Mike Heimerdinger in January to juice up an offense that threw for only nine TDs in 2007.
Young looked sharp on the opening drive, moving around and throwing on the run. But he overthrew his new tight end, four-time Pro Bowler Alge Crumpler, on a fade in the left corner of the end zone on third-and-2 from the St. Louis 5. He also was sacked two plays after his 35-yard run in which he dodged three defenders. He finished 3-of-6 for 17 yards.
"Alge is such a great target," Young said. "He knows how to get in and out of his routes, and obviously he knows how to catch the ball. Chris Johnson has another level of speed, and he's going to help us."
Tennessee backup Kerry Collins wasn't helped by receivers dropping balls or once failing to get a second foot in bounds.
"We have to make those catches," Fisher said.
Tennessee's defense was ranked fifth in the NFL last season and was a big reason the Titans reached the playoffs. Fans gave a resounding welcome to defensive end Jevon Kearse, the last player introduced. He signed a two-year contract last March to return to the team where he went to three Pro Bowls and was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year during their Super Bowl season of 1999.
Kearse knocked down Bulger's first pass, then rookie tackle Jason Jones tackled Brian Leonard for a 3-yard loss. The Rams took a delay of game penalty, then Bulger's pass went off Leonard to Bulluck, who ran in 13 yards for the touchdown and a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
Bulger finally got his first completion to a teammate on his fourth pass, a 16-yarder to Drew Bennett, and the Rams' first-team offense finally got on the board with a 44-yard field goal by Josh Brown late in the first. Bulger was 3-of-9 for 29 yards, and Trent Green wasn't much better, completing one of three for 16 yards.
Titans cornerback Nick Harper was hurt on the opening play from scrimmage. He walked off on his own and went to the locker room for a bit before returning to the sideline. But he did not play again. ... St. Louis cornerback Justin King had X-rays during the first half on a hyperextended toe, which were negative. Rams tackle Brandon Gorin did not return in the second half with a shoulder injury. ... The Titans went 0-for-2 on replay challenges, the second when third-string quarterback Ingle Martin lobbied for the challenge after being stopped at the goal line on a 12-yard run to start the fourth quarter. ... The Titans won their exhibition opener for the first time since 2004.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
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