Tennessee 26, Jacksonville 10

JACKSONVILLE, Fla., Dec. 22 (UPI) -- Eddie George had a pair of short touchdown runs and linebacker Peter Sirmon returned an interception 32 yards for a score Sunday as the Tennessee Titans clinched AFC South title with a 28-10 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Titans (10-5) won for the ninth time in 10 games and claimed their second division crown in three years when the Indianapolis Colts fell to the New York Giants.


"We came down here with a great deal of respect for the Jaguars and obviously we controlled this game pretty much from the outset," Titans Coach Jeff Fisher said. "We're in (the playoffs) now and it's a great step. It's what we expected to do at the beginning of the season and obviously we've still got a lot of work ahead of us."


The playoffs appeared to be a remote possibility when the Titans lost three of their first four games. But a 23-14 home win over Jacksonville on Oct. 13 started the Titans' current string of success.

"I'll go back to the 1-4 start. We didn't change anything," Fisher said. "The hardest thing for me once we got going and started to win some games (was that) people were asking, 'What have you done differently?' I didn't do anything differently."

George carried 21 times for 89 yards and scored on runs of four and one yards in the first half as the Titans built a 14-3 halftime lead.

Any chance of a comeback by Jacksonville (6-9) ended when Sirmon picked off a pass from Mark Brunell and went up the sideline for his first career touchdown with 2:08 left in the third quarter, increasing the lead to 21-3.

"Bad throw. Bad decision," Jaguars Coach Tom Coughlin said. "It really hurt us."

Steve McNair capped the scoring with a five-yard touchdown pass to Derrick Mason with 11:26 left. McNair completed 13 of 21 passes for 115 yards and carried eight times for 58 yards.


Tennessee won its fourth straight game and can secure at least a first-round playoff bye if it wins next week at Houston.

"We wanted to make a statement (last) offseason," McNair said. "We wanted to improve in the passing game and we did. The running game is now at the point where we can control the ball once we get up."

"It was a blessing in disguise," George said of the slow start. "We could have gone either way but we believed in each other."

Jacksonville (6-9) will suffer its third straight losing season after advancing to the AFC Championship Game in 1999, putting the future of coach Tom Coughlin in jeopardy.

"It's frustrating to face a team which obviously is playing its best football of the year and come in here in this division and not be able to compete against them. That's frustrating," Coughlin said. "We prepare with nothing in mind other than winning."

The normally disciplined Jaguars were penalized eight times for 51 yards.

The Titans opened the second with a 12-play, 66-yard drive that ended with a four-yard touchdown run around left end by George.

The Jaguars cut the lead to 7-3 on a 24-yard field goal by Danny Boyd early in the second quarter, but the Titans struck back quickly thanks to the running ability of McNair.


McNair scrambled for 14 and 26 yards on consecutive plays, leading to a one-yard touchdown run by George that made it 14-3.

Mason had six catches for 56 yards and has caught 30 passes for 335 yards and two scores in December.

Brunell left the game in the third quarter with a hamstring injury. Before departing, he completed 12 of 21 passes for 114 yards.

"We had high hopes coming in but we didn't have the day we needed to have to win," Brunell said. "We always fight until the end, so I don't think there is any quit in this locker room."

Rookie David Garrard threw a four-yard touchdown pass to Jimmy Smith with eight seconds left.

Fred Taylor of the Jaguars saw limited playing time due to an ankle injury suffered in the first half and carried three times for 17 yards.

The Titans have won seven of the last nine meetings with Jacksonville.

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