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PRO FOOTBALL / WEEK 2 | SAN DIEGO 13, TENNESSEE 7

Grand Old Bust Is Staged in Nashville

September 14, 1998|From Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Oilers thought they had everything in place Sunday for their grand opening in Nashville. Jets flew over Vanderbilt Stadium, country music artist Lee Greenwood sang the national anthem and the team had its first sellout crowd in almost four years.

What the San Diego Chargers had in place was a game plan which kept first-year quarterback Ryan Leaf from making rookie mistakes and a defense that stopped one of the NFL's top running backs cold.

Leaf set up San Diego's only touchdown with a 20-yard scramble, John Carney kicked two field goals, and the Charger defense was dominant in a 13-7 victory over the Oilers in their first regular-season game in their new hometown before 41,089.

The victory was particularly sweet for Charger Coach Kevin Gilbride, who was the Oiler offensive coordinator when he was fired during a losing streak in 1994.

"It will always be extra special when we come here and play this team and win," said Gilbride, whose team is 2-0.

Knowing the Oilers' aggressive defense, Gilbride devised a simple game plan to protect Leaf, who was 13 for 24 for 174 yards with no interceptions.

"He never panicked, and they came out there with a 100 different looks and blitzes," Gilbride said.

The Charger defense, meanwhile, simply took it to the Oilers' leading rusher, Eddie George, who had 11 yards in 15 carries.

Dared to throw, Steve McNair couldn't deliver big numbers for the Oilers, going 21 for 35 for 187 yards and one touchdown.

The Oilers hurt themselves repeatedly with penalties. McNair's 32-yard touchdown pass to Yancey Thigpen on the game's first drive was wiped out by a holding penalty on tackle Brad Hopkins. They eventually managed to back themselves out of field-goal range and had six penalties for 56 yards in the first half.

The Chargers had the ball 10 minutes for the first drive of the third quarter. Leaf started with a 34-yard pass play to Mikhael Ricks and on third-and-nine at the Oiler 21, he looked a lot like the mobile McNair in scrambling out of the pocket to the one-yard line.

A play later, Natrone Means ran wide for the game-deciding touchdown. Means had 87 of his team's 141 rushing yards.

"You run the ball like we did that, just takes a lot of pressure off the quarterback and doesn't put you in harm's way," Leaf said.

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