With the offseason limiting the amount of excitement rolling into June, I figured it would be a great time to look back on great Tennessee Titans games of the past, and the first one I want to get into is a Week 5, 2001 matchup on October 14th at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and their highly regarded defense.
At the time, the Titans started the 2001 season at 0-3, a surprising development from the previous two seasons where they dominated in the then AFC Central. One reason came with the departure of former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams (yes, believe it or not, Williams used to be good at this job), as he left following the 2000 season to accept a head coaching job with the Buffalo Bills.
The Buccaneers, on the other hand, entered the game 2-1 (The attacks on September 11th postponed all games from Week 2, hence the fewer amount of games played) thanks to their star defense, which allowed 12 points per game ahead of this matchup. Keep in mind the defense featured star players such as pass rushers Warren Sapp and Simeon Rice, linebackers Derrick Brooks and Shelton Quarles, and defensive backs John Lynch and Ronde Barber.
Obviously the Titans and then head coach Jeff Fisher needed a win to keep any sort of postseason birth alive, as only one team in NFL history has made the playoffs after an 0-4 start (the 1992 Chargers, who finished the season at 11-5, managing to get a playoff win out of it). Facing off against a high level defense didn’t help matters either, but quarterback Steve McNair came to play that day.
McNair went 15 of 23 in the air (65.22% completion percentage) for 230 yards, one touchdown and an interception while also adding 54 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Stats aren’t everything, but this kind of statistical performance against a defense that was entering its prime meant a lot.
After the Titans defense forced a three and out to open the game, McNair and the Titans drove 61 yards, helped by a first down conversion on third and eight from McNair to WR Justin McCareins for 36 yards. This set up a one-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Dyson—the man whose famous playoff moment in 1999 helped create the name of this blog—on the following play to put Tennessee up 7-0.
Tennessee’s defense forced the Buccaneers to punt again, but a McNair interception grabbed by Frank Wycheck set up a long touchdown drive for Tampa Bay that extended into the second quarter to tie the game up at seven.
But McNair and the Titans immediately responded with a scoring drive of their own.
It’s no secret that the late great McNair was a highly mobile quarterback, using that ability on the run to connect with receiver Chris Sanders for a key 18-yard gain. Three plays later, McNair scored himself on a one-yard touchdown run to make the game 14-7 in favor of Tennessee.
After the Buccaneers were forced to punt again, McNair and the Titans were left with an opportunity to close out the first half with some points and did so.
Set up by a 22-yard scramble from McNair, kicker Jon Nedney connected on a 44-yard field goal to increase the Titans’ lead to 17-7 at halftime.
After three combined punts were forced by both teams to start the second half, the Buccaneers executed another long touchdown drive, ending on a Brad Johnson connection to Warrick Dunn to cut Tennessee’s lead to 17-14.
The Titans responded with another scoring drive that extended into the fourth quarter, but a key review prevented them from putting up more points than they got.
On this third and five, McNair appeared to connect with Dyson for a beautiful 26-yard touchdown, but the officiating crew overturned it, ruling that Dyson’s foot hit the pylon before he made the catch, thereby making him an illegible receiver and hitting the Titans with a loss of downs.
On the ensuing play, Nedney hit a 45-yard field goal to increase the Titans lead to 20-14 with less than 13 minutes remaining in regulation. The defense got away with an interception, setting up a touchdown drive that was entirely regulated by running back Eddie George, as he received the ball on every play including a four-yard touchdown run. McNair connected on a two-point conversion to Dyson to extend the lead to 28-14.
The Buccaneers responded with a touchdown drive to cut the lead to 28-21. After a three and out from both teams, Nedney a game clinching 47-yard field goal, allowing Tampa Bay to go on a late touchdown drive to make the game 28 apiece. Jeff Fisher elected to let the clock run out, sending this heated game to overtime.
The Buccaneers won the coin toss and elected to receive, but the Titans defense forced quick three and out, giving the offense a chance to win their first game of the season.
McNair responded on the first play of the drive with a 14-yard completion to WR Drew Bennett that brought the Titans inside the Buccaneers’ 35. Though he missed an open touchdown to Dyson two plays later, McNair’s completion to Bennett allowed the Titans to set up a game winning field goal, and appropriately enough, went in the only way it could have after a chaotic, exciting offensive stronghold.
The Titans got a huge 31-28 overtime win over the Buccaneers to improve their record to 1-3 on the season. The Titans offense put up 365 total yards while also converting on eight third downs. McNair’s efforts helped carry Tennessee on a day where the defense blew a 14-point lead late in the fourth quarter.
The Buccaneers ended up finishing the season 9-7, and while that was enough for them to make the playoffs that year, they lost in the Wild Card Round to the Philadelphia Eagles 31-9. The Titans finished 7-9 and missed the playoffs, but returned to the postseason the next two years with McNair at the helm.
Though the 2001 season ended in mediocrity, the Titans had this thrilling overtime victory over a phenomenal Buccaneers defense to remember, with Steve McNair’s performance lifting them over the hump. Rest In Peace, legend.