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Tennessee 13, Houston 3

Dec. 29, 2002 at 8:46 PM   |   Comments

HOUSTON, Dec. 29 (UPI) -- Eddie George rushed for 102 yards and a touchdown Sunday as the Tennessee Titans clinched a first-round playoff bye with a lackluster 13-3 victory over the Houston Texans.

The AFC South champion Titans (11-5) closed the regular season by winning five straight and 10 of their last 11 games. They will be the second seed in the playoffs behind the Oakland Raiders and will host either Pittsburgh, the New ork Jets or Indianapolis in the divisional round.

George was the key to the Titans securing a bye. He helped make up for an ineffective passing game, carrying 25 times, including a four-yard touchdown run with under five minutes remaining that gave the Titans a 13-3 lead.

"It feels good knowing that we accomplished our goal of coming down here, winning and locking up the No. 2 spot," George said. "We're going to go and get rested up and I'll have the opportunity to witness Ohio State win the national championship on Friday."

"We needed to win this so we could have the week off," Titans Coach Jeff Fisher said. "We wanted to be in the top four in the playoffs. We're one of two teams that has a week off and has a home game in the AFC and that was our goal."

One of the players who desperately needed a week off was quarterback Steve McNair, who has been banged up all season.

It was the first game back in Houston for the Titans, who began their history as the Houston Oilers in 1960 and relocated to Tennessee following the 1996 season.

Rookie David Carr passed for 214 yards and a touchdown for the Texans (4-12), who concluded their first season with three straight losses.

"The thing that I leave this first season with is we have a lot of players that are put together the right way," Texans Coach Dom Capers said. "No matter how tough the season got, they always fought their tails off. We just have to be much more efficient in our execution."

Needing a win to secure a bye, the Titans did not look anything like the NFL's hottest teams. The Texans held a 159-115 edge in total yards after one half and limited Tennessee to five first downs.

On their initial possession of the game, the Texans drove inside the Titans' 20, but went backwards and Kris Brown missed a 50-yard field goal.

Tennessee took advantage of the field position, moving 51 yards in seven plays. McNair had completions of 10 yards to George and a 36-yard connection with Justin McCareins to the Houston 12.

That was the most success McNair had the entire day. He completed eight of 22 passes for 148 yards and was sacked twice.

"We can't win in the playoffs like this," McNair said. "We know what was at hand today. A lot of times you overlook certain things in the offensive scheme and I think that's what we did today. I think we made a lot of mistakes offensively that we shouldn't have, but that's something we can correct."

The Titans' drive stalled and Joe Nedney kicked a 28-yard field goal with 3:58 left in the first quarter for a 3-0 lead.

Houston, which struggled offensively most of the day, had its best drive of the game early in he second quarter. The Texans moved 72 yards to the Tennessee one, but on fourth and goal, Coach Dom 1.

But on 4th-and-goal from the 1, Capers opted for a 19-yard field goal that Brown had blocked by Samari Rolle.

After getting stopped on their next possession, the Titans committed another special teams blunder when Chad Stanley had his punt blocked by Rocky Boiman. Donald Mitchell recovered for the Titans at the Texans' 22.

George ran for two yards on first down before McNair threw a pair of incompletions, bringing on Nedney for a 26-yard field goal that made it 6-0 with 2:54 left in the half.

The Titans also made a mistake on special teams in the third quarter, although it did not prove costly.

After Brown converted a 31-yard field goal, the Texans took the points off the board when Titans rookie Albert Haynesworth was whistled for a leverage penalty.

Houston had a first and goal at the six, but Jonathan Wells was stopped for no gain and Carr was sacked on consecutive plays. Carr was sacked three times, bringing his NFL-record total to 76.

Brown converted a 42-yard field goal with 52 seconds remaining, pulling the Texans within 6-3.

Clinging to the 6-3 lead, the Titans got a big play out of their defense with less than 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter when Rolle intercepted Carr at his own 43.

On the ensuing drive, McNair found Drew Bennett for 53 yards on third and 24 to the Houston 18. Robert Holcombe also had a five-yard run on third and four to the seven. George ran for three yards and then scored on a four-yard run, making it 13-3 with 5:19 remaining.

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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