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Titans just keep winning


They continue to hang on against age, against a bulky salary cap and against a now-punchless running game that was once one of the strongest in the league.

How long can the Tennessee Titans hold on? How long can they fight time? More importantly, are the Titans ripe for the Jaguars to score a "Take Back Our House" victory over Jeff Fisher's team this Sunday?

It's not that the Titans aren't still regarded as one of the league's top contenders. It's just that they really don't resemble the Titans team that scaled the heights of the AFC in 1999.

Their running game is 27th in the league. Their defense is the NFL's eighth-best overall, but it's been ravaged by the Colts and the Patriots for 33 and 38 points and the Titans' pass-defense is second-worst in the league.

So, what's keeping the Titans on top? Steve McNair, who is carrying this team on his back for the second consecutive year and leads the AFC with a 106.8 passer rating.

The Titans showed signs of decline a year ago, but they rallied from a 1-4 start to make it all the way to the AFC title game. It is the collapse of the running game that has them most concerned.

"It's disgusting," running back Eddie George said of a running game that was averaging 2.6 yards per carry, next to last in the league after week five. At that point, the Titans were averaging a mere 68.8 rushing yards per game. Ouch!

So, the question remains: How long can McNair carry this team without the aid of a running game? He had to do that last season. Can he do it again this year?

At 5-2, the Titans' record is impressive, but they've only beaten one team (Carolina) that doesn't have a losing record, and they faltered in their only two games against AFC playoff contenders.

McNair threw for 391 yards against the Patriots, and he would've made up for the lack of a potent running game had the Titans defense not collapsed. Clearly, McNair can't account for that, too.

"Any time our offense gives us 30-some points, we've got to win. We got 30 and we did not hold up our end of the bargain," linebacker Keith Bulluck said. "No pointing fingers. Bottom line: We let a mediocre team run up our butts," Bulluck added of New England.

Making matters worse for the defense was the loss of star cornerback Samari Rolle, who will be out 3-6 weeks after suffering a dislocated left elbow in the New England game. At the same time, the Titans were getting back defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth after missing three games with a dislocated elbow.

McNair has the Titans passing game ranked third in the league, and that's clearly the strength of Fisher's team. You could point to their third-place ranking against the run, but that stat may be a bit misleading. The Steelers were in the process of running the ball successfully against the Titans when turnovers sabotaged the effort and forced the Steelers to pass. A week later, New England ran the ball at will against the Titans, who hadn't given up as many rushing yards (161) in more than a year. Patriots running back Antowain Smith averaged 5.0 yards per carry and Mike Cloud averaged a whopping 10.4. Carolina's second-ranked running game was rendered useless when the Titans got out to a big, early lead and forced the Panthers into catch-up passing.

"We couldn't stop them from moving the ball," Titans safety Tank Williams said of the Patriots, "and when you can't stop a team from moving the ball, that's a frustrating day."

"You know, I'm not saying we dominated them or anything like that," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said, "but it was a battle … and I thought our guys held their own."

The Titans are still a formidable team, but this is not the Titans team of the past. They're a little older, not as physical on offense and possibly losing the battle in trying to hold on against the ravages of the salary cap and time. To that end, this Sunday's game at Alltel Stadium will be a measuring stick for the young Jaguars: How big is the gap they must close on the Titans?

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