NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Dec. 17, 2006) -- The Tennessee Titans found three more ways to keep their magical ride alive.
The 24 points in 10 minutes to beat the New York Giants? Stunning. A 60-yard field goal to beat Indianapolis? Historical. Vince Young's 39-yard touchdown run in overtime at Houston? Impressive.
In Week 15, Young and the offense couldn't move the ball against the Jaguars. So the Titans defense beat up David Garrard and returned turnovers 83, 92 and 61 yards for touchdowns and beat Jacksonville 24-17 for their fifth consecutive victory.
Credit a franchise-record three defensive TDs and a team-record 370 yards of returns.
"I was just thinking, 'Don't get caught,' " rookie Cortland Finnegan said of his 92-yard fumble return for a TD. "I just wanted to get in the end zone and put some points up on the board. You run faster when a play like that happens, and then you find out how winded you are at the end. It was a fun thing."
Adam "Pacman" Jones returned an interception 83 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter for a 7-0 lead. Then the Titans broke open a 10-10 game in the third quarter despite the Jaguars running 32 consecutive offensive plays -- not counting a penalty that nullified a 33rd.
Finnegan picked up Garrard's fumble and returned it for the go-ahead TD with 4:51 left in the third period. Six plays later, safety Chris Hope picked off a pass and ran 61 yards up the left sideline for a 24-10 lead.
"To have to play that number of plays against them consecutively, I've got to take my hat off to our defensive guys," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. "A valiant effort to be on the field that long, and you've got to give the defense credit for this win."
Tennessee (7-7) won for the seventh time in nine games, keeping its faint playoff hopes alive. The Titans' defense was on the field for 82 plays over 44 minutes, 22 seconds, but had five sacks and forced four turnovers.
With Jacksonville (8-6) losing, Indianapolis clinched the AFC South title the Colts couldn't grab last week when they were routed 44-17 by the Jaguars. Coach Jack Del Rio said his team played well except for the turnovers.
"It's the great neutralizer. You can't lose a turnover battle like that, and you can't have those turnovers returned for touchdowns," Del Rio said.
Jacksonville pulled within 24-17 on Garrard's 3-yard TD toss to Matt Jones with 2:37 to go, and the Jaguars tried an onside kick. Stephen Tulloch recovered for Tennessee, but the Titans had to punt it back with 61 seconds left.
Three plays later, Reynaldo Hill picked off Garrard's pass to seal the victory.
"I have never been a part of a day quite like this; I don't even know if I have seen a day quite like this ...," Garrard said. "It is upsetting, and I definitely have a horrible taste in my mouth."
The Jaguars came in with the NFL's fifth-stingiest defense, and they did their job in trying to protect a one-game lead in the wild-card chase. The Titans had the ball for only 96 seconds in the third quarter and 15:38 overall and finished with a season-low 98 yards of offense.
But it was Tennessee's defense, statistically the worst in the league -- allowing 364.4 yards per game -- that made the biggest plays. The weary Titans even kept the Jaguars out of the end zone despite Jacksonville having first-and-goal at the Tennessee 6 midway through the fourth quarter.
A review wiped out a bobbled 1-yard TD catch by Marcedes Lewis. Then the Titans stopped Maurice Drew on third down at the 1, and Adam Jones broke up a fourth-down pass to Matt Jones in the end zone, drawing a standing ovation from the cheering fans.
"They did all that work for nothing pretty much," Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck said. "It's demoralizing to a team (to) drive down 80 yards, about to punch it in and you're doing everything right on offense. You're doing everything right but scoring. That's got to be tough."
Then Young and an offense that picked up three first downs through three quarters ran off three minutes to give the defense its best rest since halftime.
The Jaguars rolled up 396 yards despite losing running back Fred Taylor to a strained right hamstring on his second carry. Rookie Drew scored his 13th TD this season on a 12-yard run in the first quarter and finished with 98 yards. He left the game in the fourth quarter with a left leg injury.
A bad omen might have been Taylor pulling up lame when he could have scored. Three plays later, Adam Jones stepped in front of a pass for Williams and ran it back for a 7-0 lead in the first quarter for a 14-point swing.
The Jaguars missed a chance to even this series, and the Titans now lead 13-11, not counting playoffs.
Young tied Dan Marino and Kerry Collins for most victories by a rookie quarterback since 1970 and is now 7-4 despite completing only eight passes against Jacksonville.
The Titans finished 4-2 in the AFC South.
It was Jones' fourth interception this season, but his first returned for a touchdown. It was the fourth TD of his career.
The Associated Press News Service
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