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Not the same Titans


The names are the same but these are not the same Titans that beat the Jaguars three times in 1999 and claimed the AFC title on the Jaguars' home turf.

Steve McNair is still the Titans' quarterback, but he doesn't have the supporting cast he once had and the ravages of time and a chronic bad back have cost McNair a considerable amount of the scrambling ability that devastated the Jaguars in that '99 title game.

Eddie George is still the Titans' featured running back, but George continues to battle a foot injury that caused him to fall from the ranks of the league's thousand-yard rushers last season for the first time in his career. George had only one 100-yard game last year and is off to another slow start this year.

Jevon Kearse is still the Titans' defensive star, but Kearse suffered a broken foot in the season-opener and won't return to the field until the season is half over.

On and on it goes and a severely strained salary cap makes the situation even worse for coach Jeff Fisher, who embittered Jaguars fans following that '99 title-game win when Fisher sharply referred to Alltel Stadium as the Titans' home field.

These days, bravado has been replaced by humility. These are tough times for a team that abused its salary cap for the sake of making one more run at the Super Bowl. Sound familiar?

This Sunday, the "old" Titans and the "new" Jaguars will renew their rivalry in a 4:15 kickoff at The Coliseum, formerly known as Adelphia Coliseum. Of course, we all know what happened to Adelphia. Was it a harbinger of a collapse by the Titans, too?

"If anyone on this team, by their play or by their expression or by their attitude in these hallways acts like this season is all for naught, they won't be on this team any longer. There are a lot of games left and this is going to be a good football team," Fisher said in the days following the Titans' 52-25 loss in Oakland.

He has good reason not to write this year off as being hopeless. League-wide parity and a weak AFC South give the Titans the same kind of hope the Jaguars have; 8-8 may be good enough to win the division title.

"This team is going to come back," he said.

For the Titans to resurrect their fortunes, George must return to some semblance of his old form. The Tennessee formula has always been George on the ground and McNair to tight end Frank Wycheck in the air. With wide receiver Derrick Mason battling a shoulder injury, the George-McNair-Wycheck triumvirate has never been more important.

"They look like they're having a hard time figuring out what the personality of their team is," Raiders safety Rod Woodson said. Of course, Woodson knows the Titans from his days in Pittsburgh and Baltimore. "They're not playing confident football right now, which is what happens when you're not winning. They used to play with a lot more confidence."

If George's foot is a problem, then so is the offensive line. Bruce Matthews is retired and George has found little running room, as evidenced by his 2.7 yards-per-carry average.

The Titans have experimented with a spread offense, and some close to the Titans scene believes the team should pursue a more wide-open approach offensively and abandon its old ways, but a pass-happy approach wouldn't seem to fit the Titans' personality. It certainly wouldn't help a defense that is struggling mightily, as evidenced by the Raiders' outburst.

Defensively, the Titans clearly miss Kearse's big-play ability on a unit that is at the bottom of the league rankings. The secondary, once the strength of the Titans' defense, is now the team's most dramatic weakness.

"I know people are going to write us off and say how bad we are, but it is still early," defensive tackle John Thornton said.

Yes, it's early in the season, but it may be late for a team of old names. The Jaguars know all about such things.

Vic Ketchman is the Senior Editor of Jaguars Inside Report, the official team newspaper of the Jacksonville Jaguars. One-year subscriptions may be purchased by calling 1-888-846-5247.

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