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Titans keep leaning on George


The Tennessee Titans aren't trying to fool anyone with their offensive game plan. Offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger isn't pulling 18-hour work days doing X's and O's, and quarterback Steve McNair's extra film work in recent weeks is simply to polish what he already knows.

Tennessee continues to give the football to Eddie George, so, defensive coordinators had better get used to it. George carried the ball a career-high 36 times for 181 yards in the Titans' 23-14 win over Cincinnati, and for the second consecutive game the Titans controlled the clock for more than 40 minutes and rolled up more than 400 yards of total offense. George had 20 carries at the half and has 71 in the last two weeks.

"That's what we do," guard Bruce Matthews said. "That's what we're about, and in a lot of ways that was very close to our ideal game. Eddie ran for 180 yards and controlled the game."

On one of the Titans' fourth-quarter possessions, which ended in a missed field goal attempt, George ran the ball six times, with every carry going for at least five yards and five of those carries going for eight yards or more.

George's performance was made more impressive by the absence of the left side of the Tennessee offensive line. Tackle Brad Hopkins missed the game with a severely sprained ankle and Matthews left the game with a sprained knee in the second quarter. Both are questionable for Monday night's game against Jacksonville.

McNair turned in another strong performance in his second start since returning from injury. He completed 19 passes for 230 yards and a touchdown and he did it without starting wide receivers Yancey Thigpen and Carl Pickens, both of whom were inactive.

Defensive end Jevon Kearse continues to struggle; he had just one tackle against the Bengals. Cincinnati didn't appear to be too concerned with Kearse, letting right tackle Willie Anderson take him one-on-one and using a quick passing game to prevent Akili Smith from becoming a target.

"There ain't no way in hell I'm going to let one player block me by himself," Kearse said after the game. "I didn't get a sack, but you can tell on the tape I beat his butt good a couple of times, but the ball was just going away."

Still, Kearse has gone without a sack in three consecutive games and has just one-and-a-half for the season.

Up next: Jacksonville, 2-4

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers have found success in recent weeks by returning to the style of play that has been their trademark since the 1970s. Running back Jerome Bettis ran for 107 yards in the Steelers' 20-3 win and has 414 yards in his last four games. His 12-yard touchdown run marked the fourth consecutive game in which the "Bus" has found the end zone, his longest touchdown streak since 1996.

"I think it might be a resurrection of sorts," said Bettis, who was the team MVP in 1996 and 1997. "People had me dead and buried. It's fine. I know what I can do. I'll keep doing it. I have a lot of years left."

Bettis has struggled with a lingering knee injury, which has limited his effectiveness since 1998. His resurgence has given new life to the Steelers defense, which doesn't have the same play-makers up front and in the secondary as it has in recent memory, but hasn't been on the field often lately because the Steelers' running game has controlled the clock.

"We made a concerted effort to run the football, and I think it's paying off," Bettis. "We had to control the football game and we kept it on the ground. When you can keep going right at a defense, it's going to be tough. When we're getting 4.5 yards a clip, it's difficult to keep your enthusiasm up."

Pittsburgh's defense is enjoying a revival of its own. They held the Jaguars, a team favored by more than a touchdown, to just 206 yards of offense and didn't give up a touchdown until nine seconds remained in the game.

The undefeated Jets were also heavily favored and provided less resistance than Jacksonville. They also had just 206 yards of offense and mustered only a field goal. What's more, the Steelers forced four turnovers, ending a drought.

"Teams need to look out for us," strong safety Lee Flowers said. "I'm not saying we're the best team in the NFL, but teams better prepare harder for us. It's almost like we're going back to the old Steelers, where we come out on the first play and set the tempo by busting you in the mouth. We've been dong that the last couple of weeks."

Pittsburgh returns to Three Rivers Stadium after a highly successful two-game road swing, looking to turn things around at home where they have won just two of their last 12 and are 0-2 in 2000.

Up next: Cincinnati, 0-5

Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals' 23-14 loss to Tennessee gave Cincinnati fans something to cheer about for the first time in awhile. Running back Cory Dillon ripped off an 80-yard touchdown run in the second quarter and safety Daryl Williams returned an interception 36 yards for a score, to give the Bengals a 14-10 lead at halftime, but neither player could help his team in the second half, as the home team fell apart after leading at the break for the second game in as many weeks.

The Bengals have been outscored 60-3 in the second half of their first five games. Dillon was held to just 15 yards on 14 carries beyond his long run, and Williams and the secondary couldn't stop second-team receivers from amassing 230 yards.

There were other culprits as well. The defense couldn't stop running back George from running them over once again. George set a personal-best with 36 rushing attempts and finished with 181 yards rushing and caught three passes for 33 yards and a score. George wore out the Bengals, who watched him gain 99 yards in the first half.

"We saw him all day," lamented safety Cory Hall. "It was pretty much consistent but, after awhile, with the wear and tear, he started gashing the defense." The defense was on the field for 41 of 60 minutes on Sunday.

The development of quarterback Akili Smith continues to slow the growth curve of the Bengals as a whole. Smith completed only 10 of 23 passes for just 85 yards. Had Dillon not taken the bull by the horns on his 80-yard run, his day would have looked more like 15 rushing attempts for 15 yards. Smith's inability to back the linebackers off the line is killing Dillon.

Then there's rookie wide receiver Peter Warrick, whose game-breaking ability was supposed to complement Smith's strong arm. Sunday, Warrick caught just one pass for 10 yards and he has just 16 catches on the season and only one touchdown.

"I have people calling me on the phone every week from all over the country, asking me, 'When are they going to start getting you the ball?' " Warrick said after the game. "All I can tell them is now I'm wondering the same thing. I've always been of the mind that I'm just out there to play," he said. "I try to keep my mouth shut. A track record should speak for itself. I don't even know what to say right now."

Up next: at Pittsburgh, 2-3

Cleveland Browns

The Browns are still talking like a team that believes they are better than their 2-4 record would indicate. They grabbed a 14-0 lead on the road against Arizona, but couldn't sustain their early success, couldn't stop quarterback Jake Plummer and running back Michael Pittman, and couldn't overcome their lack of play-makers. It's the same song they sung after losing in Oakland two weeks ago.

"I'm upset about this game," coach Chris Palmer said after the 29-21 loss. "I think we were in a situation where, if we play smart football, we get a chance to win."

The Browns had two chances to win the game in the fourth quarter. They trailed by five points, then an Arizona field goal made it eight, but on either side of that field goal, the Browns gained a total of three yards, which had the coach fuming.

Rookie running back Travis Prentice, in his first starting role, ran for 59 yards in his first 13 carries and finished the game with 97 yards and three touchdowns. Arizona adjusted its defense and, after those 59 yards, he managed only 38 the rest of the afternoon.

Tim Couch completed only 16 of his passes for 136 yards and Couch failed to find a receiver for a meaningful reception all day long. Couch directed the Browns to two touchdowns in their first three series, then could only put together six first downs the rest of the way, including an 0-for-8 stretch in the third quarter.

Then there's the loss of wide receiver Kevin Johnson, who was Couch's favorite target last season, but has just 18 receptions this year and no touchdowns. Johnson is an offensive weapon unlike any other in Cleveland because he, unlike the others, is still on the field and not on injured reserve, as are Erric Rhett, JaJuan Dawson and guard Jim Pyne, limiting the scope of Palmer's offense. In the last five games, Johnson has caught five, four, three, two and one pass. Sunday in Arizona, his contribution amounted to four yards of offense.

"I have no clue (to what's wrong)," Johnson said. "You have to ask the coaches. I'm running the plays to the best of my ability."

Up next: at Denver, 3-3

Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens defense is strong, but the offense is in a tailspin.

Matt Stover should be the highest paid offensive player in Baltimore, having scored all 27 of the Ravens points in their last two wins. It's been eight quarters since the Ravens have found the end zone.

"The offense, we held up our end as best we could," coach Brian Billick said, noting that they scored enough to win. "Right now is not the time to ask about third-down efficiency, red zone efficiency. Coulda, shoulda, woulda."

The Ravens did play without their two best offensive linemen, left tackle Jon Ogden and center Jeff Mitchell, who left the game with a high-ankle sprain in the first quarter. Their running game, which had averaged 142 yards per game, managed only 55 and averaged less than half of the 4.8 they entered the game with.

Baltimore defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis had a solid game plan in place for Jaguars receiver Jimmy Smith. It was Smith who burned the Ravens for nearly 300 yards and three touchdowns in September. Lewis flopped cornerback Chris McAlister from side to side, shadowing Smith, who finished with eight catches for 95 yards and only two longer than 11 yards.

"It was definitely redemption," McAlister said of his performance. "He struck us for 291 yards the first game. I don't know how many he had today, but I know he never touched the end zone. That just feels good. That's a victory if nothing else."

Up next: at Washington, 4-2

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