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Titans secure crown, bye while eyeing bigger prizes

Titans secure crown, bye while eyeing bigger prizes
NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Titans killed two birds with one stone.
The team with professional football’s best record clinched the AFC South Division title and secured a home playoff game with a 28-9 victory over the Cleveland Browns Sunday afternoon.
The Titans (12-1), the only NFL team with just one loss, got even more good news later in the day as the New York Jets’ 24-14 loss at San Francisco means that Tennessee will also have a first-round postseason bye and can finish no worse than first or second in the AFC.
Three weeks remain in the regular season for the Titans, who’ll play two of those Sundays on the road — including next week at Houston. Tennessee’s last remaining home regular season game is Dec. 21 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the only team remaining with a chance to knock the Titans out of the AFC’s No. 1 seed.
Tennessee’s current record is the franchise’s best-ever and this year’s divisional championship is the first since 2002 in a league recently dominated by Indianapolis.
“We are certainly very excited to have put ourselves in a situation where we met and surpassed our first goal here, which is to win the division,” Titans head coach Jeff Fisher said afterward. “We did it against a good football team, against a good defensive football team and overcame a lot during the game.
“Still, we know there’s a lot of things left we want to accomplish. Today was a good first step.”
Rookie running back Chris Johnson surpassed the 1,000-yard mark for the season in Sunday’s victory over the Browns, the 11th different Titan rusher to eclipse that plateau in franchise history. Johnson joined an elite fraternity that includes only Eddie George and Earl Campbell as the lone rookie running backs in franchise history to run for more than 1,000 yards.
Johnson ran for 136 yards on 19 carries in all — his fourth time this season to top the century mark in a game — and capped his day and the Titan scoring with a 25-yard touchdown scamper with 8:22 left in the contest.
LenDale White, the former of Tennessee’s running back tandem nicknamed “Smash and Dash,” just missed the 100-yard mark with 99 yards rushing. White did score his 14th touchdown of the season — a three-yard run in the second quarter — that tied George for the second-most TDs rushing in a single season. White had originally hit the century total, but was stopped for a one-yard loss on a 4th-and-2 late that dropped him back to 99 yards.
In his third season with the team after starring at Southern California as a collegian, White did go over the 2,000-yard rushing total for his young career with Sunday’s effort.
Though convincing, the Titans’ victory was not without flaw. Tennessee was guilty of three turnovers and 131 yards worth of penalties.
“The slow start, the turnovers, we had way too many penalties,” Fisher added. “But yet we found a way to effect sudden change defensively and, even though we had the three turnovers, our defense allowed just six points off of those.”
The Titan defense indeed was dominant, holding the Browns to just 178 total yards and without a touchdown as all of Cleveland’s points came off Phil Dawson field goals.
The Browns were down to their third quarterback, Ken Dorsey, after starter Brady Quinn and backup Derek Anderson both suffered season-ending injuries over the past two weeks.
Kerry Collins countered a pair of interceptions with two touchdown passes, a 28-yarder to fullback Ahmard Hall on 4th-and-1 to get Tennessee on the board early in the second quarter and a nine-yarder to Justin Gage after Michael Griffin had picked off Dorsey and returned it deep inside Browns’ territory early in the second half.
Collins completed 14-of-23 passes for 155 yards.
A 44-yard punt return by Chris Carr set up Johnson’s scoring burst that salted the game away.
Sports editor Mike Hutchens can be contacted by e-mail at mhutch@ucmessenger.com.

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