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Titans Stop Run, Perfect Season

October 20, 2003|From Associated Press

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Carolina Panthers hardly expected to go 16-0. They just acted like it.

One example: Defensive tackle Kris Jenkins showed up for Sunday's game against Tennessee wearing a jersey from the Miami Dolphins' perfect 1972 season.

The Titans had other ideas, jumping out to a 20-0 lead and converting four fumbles into scores while handing the Panthers their first loss of the season, 37-17, Sunday.

"I had no visions of going undefeated," Carolina Coach John Fox said. "But I didn't want to lose a game like that."

The Panthers (5-1) fumbled away the opening kickoff, leading to Steve McNair's rushing touchdown. Then the Titans (5-2) padded their lead to 14-0 and grabbed momentum with a 50-yard pass from Billy Volek to Eddie Berlin on a fake punt.

Keith Bullock later scored on a 35-yard fumble recovery, and Gary Anderson added field goals of 32, 34 and 40 yards for the Titans.

"We wanted to score first and see if they could come from behind," McNair said. "They couldn't."

Not with all of the Panthers' mistakes. They found themselves playing to a chorus of boos before halftime. And the game exposed many of Carolina's weaknesses.

The Panthers' vaunted defense struggled to stop the pass, allowing McNair to go 12 of 22 for 190 yards, including a 22-yard touchdown pass to Drew Bennett. It also had difficulty containing a mobile quarterback: McNair scrambled for 30 yards, including his seven-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.

"He's tough when he's scrambling around. You've got to make him stay in the pocket," safety Mike Minter said.

Also glaringly evident is that when Carolina's running game doesn't work -- and it never did against Tennessee -- the Panthers have little to fall back on.

Stephen Davis, who entered the game with 641 yards rushing and four 100-yard games, was held to 20 yards in 11 carries. Carolina, which came in averaging 172 yards on the ground, finished with 44.

"We wanted to come in and stop their run and make them try to throw the ball," defensive end Jevon Kearse said.

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