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Streak Reaches Seven for Titans

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From Associated Press

Had Samari Rolle returned the interception 80 yards, it wouldn’t have meant a thing.

Instead, Rolle stumbled his weary body across the goal line for that final yard on the last play of the first half, and the Tennessee Titans were on their way to their seventh consecutive victory.

Rolle’s score was one of two touchdowns on returns for the Titans as they beat Washington, 27-21, Monday night, ending the Redskins’ five-game winning streak.

“It came down to two plays: the punt return and the interception before halftime,” Washington quarterback Brad Johnson said. “Basically, that was the ball game.”

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Derrick Mason returned a punt 69 yards, and former Washington tight end Frank Wycheck caught an 18-yard touchdown pass as the Titans (7-1) maintained a two-game lead over Pittsburgh in the AFC Central.

“Again this football team found a way to win,” Tennessee Coach Jeff Fisher said. “It was not necessarily the conventional way.”

The loss knocked the Redskins (6-3) out of first place in the NFC East, one-half game behind the New York Giants. Washington’s players put a premium on winning this game under the national spotlight after losing a Monday night game to Dallas in September.

Rolle’s interception was as dramatic as they come. The Redskins, trailing, 13-7, had the ball on the Titans 34 with 10 seconds remaining in the half.

Johnson tried to force a pass, and Rolle stepped in front of Irving Fryar and caught the ball at the 19. Then, knowing that he had to run it all the way back because time had expired, Rolle went from sideline to sideline, reading his blocks all the way to the end zone.

“It was a huge play,” Fisher said. “Everybody knew the time was out and it was either you get in the end zone or you don’t. He spent halftime catching his breath.”

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Rolle seemed to agree.

“Two football fields, nonstop,” said Rolle, asked to estimate the length of his run. “Luckily, I saw nobody was around me and that that was when the rest of the blockers came.”

Rolle also had another interception at the Redskins 33 with 1:59 to play, ending Washington’s last real chance to drive the ball downfield.

The Titans used Eddie George on seven consecutive plays to set up their only offensive touchdown, scored by Wycheck in the fourth quarter. George sprained his right knee early in last week’s victory over Baltimore and was not confirmed to start until shortly before kickoff.

Showing no obvious effects from the injury, George carried 22 times for 71 yards. He twisted his ankle late in the fourth quarter, but the injury wasn’t considered serious.

The Titans defense had held every offense it faced this season to three plays and a punt on its opening series. The Redskins ended that streak emphatically with a 16-play, 84-yard drive that took 8:19 and included four third-down conversions.

The most dynamic third-down play came when Johnson, hardly the most mobile of quarterbacks, escaped a sack by spinning away from Jevon Kearse and scrambling 13 yards before taking a stiff hit from Denard Walker. A pass interference call on Rolle gave the Redskins first-and-goal, and Johnson hit fullback Mike Sellers two plays later with a five-yard pass to make it 7-0.

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The Titans responded with a more chaotic, 11-play drive that included three scrambles by quarterback Steve McNair. Al Del Greco capped it with a 46-yard field goal that barely cleared the crossbar.

Less than two minutes later, a flying block by Keith Bulluck sprang Mason for a 69-yard punt return to put the Titans ahead, 10-7. Mason darted left and juked punter Tommy Barnhardt for his second career punt return touchdown.

Late in the half, a bad snap by Joe Zelenka forced Barnhardt to abort a punt attempt. After the play, Bulluck pushed Barnhardt’s helmet off. Barnhardt retaliated and was flagged for a personal foul, giving the Titans good field position to set up a 21-yard field goal by Del Greco.

Rolle’s touchdown then made it 20-7 at the half. The Redskins closed to 20-14 late in the third quarter with a 13-play, 66-yard drive, relying heavily on Stephen Davis. Davis’ seventh touch of the drive was a one-yard touchdown run.

But the Titans scored the insurance touchdown as George’s runs and a roughing the passer penalty on Kenard Lang led to Wycheck’s score. Wycheck, waived by the Redskins in 1995, spiked the ball hard and looked at the Washington bench after the score.

“I was hungry for that end zone. I wanted it bad,” Wycheck said. “I just wanted to go out and prove to them that they made a mistake. It was definitely an emotional game for me.”

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The Redskins scored once more, on a three-yard touchdown pass from Johnson to Larry Centers with 6:42 to go to make it 27-21.

But that was as close as they would get.

“There were things we did well moving the football,” Washington Coach Norv Turner said. “But we’re going to look at the film tomorrow and say the same thing: Punt return for a touchdown, an interception return for a touchdown, it’s hard to overcome that.”

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