After all, in the game of football bad

By David Carducci Record-Courier staff writer Published:

After all, in the game of football bad weather is often considered a great equalizer. Yet somehow the arctic blast that brought snow squalls and a zero-degree windchill had little effect on the Tennessee Titans.

Running as if he were playing on a balmy summer afternoon, Eddie George rushed 34 times for 176 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Titans to a 24-0 victory that brought the Browns' nightmare season to a close.

The former Ohio State star felt right at home in the bitter Buckeye weather.

"I am used to it from playing down at Ohio State," said George. "It was definitely very windy and very cold. This is December in Cleveland. They are supposed to have days like this. We knew at the beginning of the week that we would have to rely on the running game."

While the Titans relied on old-fashioned, grind-it-out football, the Browns entered the day hoping to employ another gimmick gameplan similar to the one that caught the Philadelphia Eagles offguard last week.

In that game, the Browns occasionally lined up with wide receivers Kevin Johnson and Dennis Northcutt in the quarterback position. Browns coach Chris Palmer added a wrinkle on Sunday that included a five-receiver set with nobody in the backfield. After coming set, a different player would go in motion and move into position to take a shotgun snap.

Unfortunately, the attempt at trickery turned into early disaster when running back Travis Prentice took a direct snap, dove into the line and fumbled on the third play of the game. Titans linebacker Eddie Robinson fell on the loose football at the Browns' 29-yard line. Eight plays later the Titans took a 3-0 lead on a 33-yard field goal by Al Del Greco with 10:11 left in the first quarter.

Another Browns' turnover three minutes later helped Tennessee extend its lead to 10-0. After holding the Titans three-and-out on their second possession, rookie Lamar Chapman fumbled after a short punt return at the Browns' 27. The fumble, which was recovered by Tennessee's Rodney Thomas, set up a short, three-play drive that ended a one-yard touchdown plunge by George.

"I think the two turnovers definitely hurt us and they also had four first downs from our penalties," said Palmer. "When you are playing a good team like Tennessee, you can't do that. We had opportunities to make plays on offense and defense and were unable to make them."

On several occasions the Browns extended Titans' drives with key third-down penalties. George's 1-yard touchdown run was made possible by a pass interference in the end zone called against cornerback Corey Fuller, who was covering Titans receiver Chris Sanders on a deep throw by Steve McNair. Instead of forcing a 39-yard field-goal attempt, the penalty gave the Titans the ball at the Browns' 1.

The most critical third-down penalty came on the final play of the first quarter when Browns linebacker Rahim Abdullah drew a 15-yard personal foul for grabbing McNair's facemask on a 5-yard sack on third-and-9 from the Titans' 31. The penalty kept alive a 12-play, 96-yard drive that ended with George's second touchdown _ a 2-yard sweep that extended the Titans' lead to 17-0 with 11:49 left in the second quarter.

George put the finishing touches on the victory with a 35-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.

"It was an Eddie George day," said Titans tight end Frank Wycheck. "We gave it to Eddie, and let him run and pound it. We were forced to run the ball and we were successful running the ball. They knew we were going to do it, and we still did it. It was a good offensive day."

While the Titans had success running George, the Browns' offense struggled to move the football on the frozen turf. George gained more yards in the first half (115) than the Browns managed for the entire game.

The sloppy weather forced the Browns to abandon the use of the shotgun in their offense. That meant ditching the gadget gameplan and turning to a more traditional, grind-it-out offensive style.

"The weather was a challenge," said Palmer. "It made us play sound football and pound inside with the running game. Going into the game we had three gameplans, and we ended up using the one we had put together for bad weather."

The Browns simply didn't have the running game to match George and the Titans. Led by Prentice's 32 yards on 12 carries, the Browns rushing attack managed just 50 yards and a 2.9 per carry average.

The passing game wasn't much better, as quarterback Doug Pederson was plagued by drops by his receivers. Wide receivers Kevin Johnson and David Patten and tight end Aaron Shea all dropped multiple passes that would have resulted in first downs.

"I had a couple of drops and the others had some drops that we usually come up with," said Shea. "It was cold out there, but you can't use that as an excuse if you want to be great in this league. You have to take it like a man and work harder. Both teams had to play in it and they adapted better than we did."

The shutout loss was a franchise-record fourth for the Browns, who closed the 2000 season with a disappointing 3-13 record.

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