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Titans' Big Plays Snap Washington's Win Streak

By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 31, 2000; Page D1

For the second time this season, a Monday night appearance brought out the worst in the Washington Redskins. They fought hard in the second half. But the first-half hole they had dug themselves with offensive and special teams gaffes was too deep, and they lost to the Tennessee Titans, 27-21, in front of 83,472 on a chilly night at FedEx Field.

The Redskins' five-game winning streak ended, and they fell to 6-3, putting them a half-game behind the New York Giants in the NFC East. Their last loss was Sept. 18, by the same score in a calamitous Monday night loss to the Dallas Cowboys. This time, the opponent was stronger – the Titans, the defending AFC champions, won their seventh straight game to improve to 7-1 – but the Redskins' performance was just as sloppy.

Titans running back Eddie George avoids diving linebacker Derek Smith, right, during a fourth quarter run. George finished with 71 yards rushing. (Nick Wass - AP)

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The Titans, with tailback Eddie George playing despite a sprained knee, managed only 71 yards of offense but had a 20-7 lead after a nightmarish first half for the Redskins. The Redskins took the early lead on a five-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Brad Johnson to tight end Mike Sellers.

But the Tennessee offense drove for an Al Del Greco field goal, and the Redskins offense and special teams handed away 17 points from there. Derrick Mason gave the Titans the lead with a 69-yard punt return for a touchdown. A low snap by Joe Zelenka to punter Tommy Barnhardt – and a personal foul on Barnhardt – led to a Del Greco field goal. And on the final play of the first half, with the Redskins driving toward a possible field goal, Titans cornerback Samari Rolle intercepted a Johnson pass and weaved his way 81 yards for a touchdown.

The Redskins fought back in a seesaw second half. They moved to within six points on a one-yard touchdown plunge by tailback Stephen Davis in the final seconds of the third quarter. Tennessee responded with quarterback Steve McNair's 18-yard touchdown pass to tight end Frank Wycheck with just more than 10 minutes remaining in the game, but the Redskins answered that with Johnson's three-yard touchdown toss to fullback Larry Centers with 6 minutes 42 seconds to go.

The Redskins got the ball back at their 20-yard line with 2:15 to play with a chance to win with a touchdown drive. Coach Norv Turner pulled out all the stops, even using cornerback Deion Sanders at wide receiver for the first time this season. But Johnson was called for intentional grounding for throwing the ball into the ground left handed with defensive end Kenny Holmes wrapping him up. Johnson threw incomplete on second down. He tried to get the ball to Sanders on third and 20, but was intercepted by Rolle. The Titans ran all but the final two seconds off the clock, and Johnson's final desperation heave was intercepted by cornerback Dainon Sidney.

The game began on an ominous note for the Redskins, as the ball fell off the tee just before place kicker Kris Heppner tried the opening kickoff. Heppner botched the kick but was given another try. From there, things actually went well for the Redskins for a while.

George carried on the Titans' first two offensive plays but totaled only five yards, and Redskins defensive end Bruce Smith pressured McNair into a third-down incompletion. The Redskins then went 84 yards with their opening possession to jump in front. The Redskins had gotten the start they wanted against the Titans' defense, which had forced seven straight opponents to go three plays and out on their opening possessions.

The Titans, however, regrouped to run off 20 straight points before halftime. McNair kept their next drive going by getting away from Smith to run for 10 yards on third and nine. Del Greco's 46-yard field goal just got there, and Tennessee had pulled to within 7-3.

The Redskins went three plays and out when Davis slipped on a second-down run and dropped a third-down pass. Then their special teams adventures began.

Special teams mistakes were a way of life for the Redskins last season, culminating with Dan Turk's botched snap that prevented a would-be go-ahead field goal attempt in the final moments of the team's playoff loss at Tampa Bay. This season began with the Redskins surrendering two long kickoff returns to Carolina Panthers speedster Michael Bates, one of which went for a touchdown and the other of which was nullified by a penalty.

The Redskins' special teams had been relatively solid since then. Their punt coverage had been particularly solid. Entering last night's game, the longest punt return the Redskins had surrendered this season was 16 yards. Zelenka had been flawless on his snaps since one ugly day in training camp when he sent the ball all over the place and alarmed virtually everyone at Redskins Park.

All of that changed when Mason fielded Barnhardt's punt at the Titans 31. He made Kevin Mitchell miss a tackle. He got around Barnhardt, and he cruised into the end zone to give Tennessee the lead.

But the special teams mistakes were just beginning for the Redskins. Barnhardt's next punt went 23 yards. The defense stopped the Titans' offense, and Thrash made a questionable decision to make a fair catch of Craig Hentrich's punt – when the Redskins apparently had a reverse to Champ Bailey set up.

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