Titans seek revenge on Raiders for title game loss

Posted: Friday, September 05, 2003

In two games last season, the Oakland Raiders scored 93 points on the proud Tennessee defense, 52 in the regular season and 41 in the AFC championship game.

That creates a perfect scenario for revenge when the Raiders visit Nashville on Sunday night.

Tennessee, which has its own title aspirations, hopes a new, healthy secondary and improved pass rush can keep Rich Gannon from slicing apart its secondary. He was 29-of-41 for 286 yards and three touchdowns in the title game.

The Titans have looked at the Super Bowl tape, in which Tampa Bay kept after Gannon and forced five interceptions, three of which were returned for touchdowns in the Bucs' 48-21 win.

''I saw a game in which they put pressure on the quarterback,'' says linebacker Keith Bulluck. ''We have a fresh defensive line and hopefully everybody is healthy. We just need to put pressure on the quarterback and make him make decisions like he did in the Super Bowl. You saw a lot of errors.''

The major question mark for Oakland is age.

Five starters are 37 or older, led by Jerry Rice, who will turn 41 in October. Rice's 92 receptions last season were his most since 1996, but no one can go on forever, right?

''He's old, but he's still young,'' fellow wide receiver Jerry Porter, a pup of 25, says of Rice.

Although most teams might prefer to play the Raiders later, after fatigue supposedly has set in on old legs, the Titans aren't among them.

''This is the perfect way to start the season,'' says Tennessee safety Lance Schulters. ''You don't have to sell this game to your teammates, because everyone knows its importance.''

New England (9-7) at Buffalo (8-8)

Two of Drew Bledsoe's worst games of 2002 were against the Patriots, who traded him to Buffalo before the season. Now the Bills have ex-Patriots safety Lawyer Milloy, shockingly cut this week by New England and signed on Wednesday.

Milloy not only adds another experienced body to one of the NFL's worst defenses last season, but provides insight for Buffalo into Bill Belichick's game plan.

''Lawyer knows just about any defense,'' Bills receiver Eric Moulds says. ''The guy's extremely smart. He knows exactly what's happening before it happens, so I think he'll be a great asset.''

Tampa Bay (15-4) at Philadelphia (13-5)

Here we go again, this time at the opening of Lincoln Financial Field, a vast improvement over the Vet, where the Bucs beat the Eagles in last season's NFC title game.

This is the sixth game since 2000 between these two; the Eagles had won the previous four in Philadelphia. But last year's was the most important and the second consecutive loss for the Eagles in the conference title game.

At least one Philadelphia player, classy cornerback Troy Vincent, doesn't begrudge the Bucs their title.

''Not to slight our team, but those guys worked hard for years to get where they did,'' he said of the Bucs. ''They paid the price and they received the ultimate victory. I can't bring back the NFC championship game. It's a new year and we have another opportunity.''

St. Louis (7-9) at New York Giants (10-7)

The Rams stumbled last season. Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk are healthy again and St. Louis may be the consensus favorite to win the NFC title for the third time in five seasons.

The Giants' offense could be their most explosive in nearly 40 years if a somewhat questionable offensive line keeps Kerry Collins upright. Tight end Jeremy Shockey, running back Tiki Barber and wide receiver Amani Toomer all are threats.

Last season, the Giants won in St. Louis 26-21, a game in which some of Warner's arm problems seemed obvious.

''They have been titanic every time that we have played them,'' Mike Martz says of New York. ''I think that both teams get excited about playing each other and I think it is a heck of a way of opening up the season.''

Atlanta (10-7-1) at Dallas (5-11)

Notable for two reasons: Parcells' first regular-season game as the Cowboys' coach, and Vick out for the Falcons.

Doug Johnson, who will replace Vick, has a chance to make a strong impression over the next month or so. One guy he might impress this week is Parcells, who will probably be looking next season for a new QB.

Baltimore (7-9) at Pittsburgh (11-6-1)

The Ravens' defense got them close to the playoffs after a huge salary cap purge. Ray Lewis returns from shoulder problems and makes that unit even stronger.

But the key may be rookie QB Kyle Boller, who even after a holdout won the starting job.

The Steelers remain the favorite in the NFC North. But they will start the season without All-Pro linebacker Joey Porter, wounded in a random shooting at a Denver bar last Saturday night.

Indianapolis (10-7) at Cleveland (9-8)

Interesting QB matchup in this meeting between teams that went out in the first round of last year's playoffs.

Kelly Holcomb, one of Peyton Manning's backups in Indy for three seasons, won the Browns' starting job from Tim Couch, Manning's good friend. Manning has back a healthier Edgerrin James and may take advantage of a banged-up Cleveland defense, which also lost its three starting linebackers in the offseason.

Arizona (5-11) at Detroit (3-13)

One of these tailenders will be 1-0 after the opener. Did anyone say 1-15 after the closer?

Steve Mariucci has made the Lions far more enthusiastic, but they still need players. Smith debuts at running back and Jeff Blake is the new quarterback for the Cardinals, who lost Jake Plummer and their top three wide receivers in the offseason.

Denver (9-7) at Cincinnati (3-13)

Plummer makes his debut as the Broncos' QB and Marvin Lewis coaches his first regular-season game for the Bengals.

Much more is expected under Lewis, who has more power than the penurious Mike Brown has given any Cincinnati coach in two decades. Plummer is hoping he will improve because his supporting cast is so much better in Denver.

Chicago (4-12) at San Francisco (11-7)

The Bears, 13-3 in 2001, already are experiencing the bad luck that precipitated their free fall last season. Guard Rex Tucker is lost for the season with an ankle injury.

Kordell Stewart is the new quarterback, although first-round pick Rex Grossman has looked promising in preseason.

This is Dennis Erickson's first regular-season game for the 49ers, who have some injury problems of their own. But QB Jeff Garcia seems to have recovered from back spasms.

San Diego (8-8) at Kansas City (8-8)

The Chargers usually start well, then fade. This is a tough opening assignment as Marty Schottenheimer returns to the city where he spent 10 of his 17 seasons as a head coach..

Priest Holmes, who held the NFL rushing lead when he injured a hip late in the season, seems to have recovered. And the Chiefs' defense, which allowed the league's most yards last season, has been upgraded on paper.

Minnesota (6-10) at Green Bay (12-5)

The regular-season opening of the new Lambeau Field demonstrates how far the Vikings have slipped this game was a Monday night fixture a few years ago. Now they're reduced to starting journeyman Moe Williams for running back Michael Bennett, who's still recovering from foot surgery.

Watch for Wesley Walls, who gives Brett Favre a solid TD-catching tight end.

Houston (4-12) at Miami (9-7)

The Dolphins missed the playoffs last season because they lost their last two games. But they almost always win early, especially at home, where they've taken their last 11 openers.

New running back Stacey Mack should help lessen the pressure on second-year QB David Carr, who was sacked a record 76 times in the Texans' inaugural season.

New Orleans (9-7) at Seattle (7-9)

The Saints need a serious defensive upgrade they allowed fewer than 20 points just once last season, in a 10-6 season-ending loss to Carolina.

Same for the Seahawks, who have finished between 9-7 and 7-9 in seven of the last eight seasons. Matt Hasselbeck finished strong at quarterback and has wide receiver Koren Robinson and running back Shaun Alexander.

Jacksonville (6-10) at Carolina (7-9)

Jack Del Rio makes his debut in the first Jacksonville game not coached by Tom Coughlin. The Jaguars have been sending mixed messages. They seem to be in rebuilding mode, but still picked up veterans Hugh Douglas and J.J. Stokes in the offseason and kept Mark Brunell.

Carolina also has a veteran at quarterback, 37-year-old Rodney Peete. Coach John Fox expects the offense to minimize mistakes and turn things over to a defense headed by young stars Julius Peppers, Kris Jenkins and Dan Morgan.

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