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Titans find ground game, run past Rams 28-21

The SportsXchange

ST. LOUIS -- In the offseason, the Tennessee Titans spent a lot of money intent on improving their shaky offensive line.

Eight games into the 2013 campaign, those changes might finally be paying off.

Running back Chris Johnson rushed for a season-high 150 yards on 23 carries, including the tie-breaking touchdown with 2:54 left on Sunday, as Tennessee posted a 28-21 win over former coach Jeff Fisher and the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome.

One play after Jurrell Casey forced a fumble from quarterback Kellen Clemens that Derrick Morgan recovered at the St. Louis 19-yard line, Johnson sped around the right side for his second score of the game.

In snapping a three-game losing streak and improving to 4-4, the Titans gained 198 rushing yards on 35 attempts, almost double their per-game average of 102.9.

"That's the best we've run the ball this year," Tennessee coach Mike Munchak said. "You know, those guys have taken a whole lot of hits about how we've been running the ball, or not running it."

Johnson has rushed for at least 1,000 yards in each of the first five seasons of his career, going over 2,000 in 2009. But he entered Sunday's game with only 366 yards and no touchdowns through seven games in 2013.

His first carry of the day, a 23-yard burst, started the Titans on a game-opening 68-yard touchdown drive which Shonn Greene finished on a 5-yard run 3:07 into the contest. Johnson added a 14-yard scoring jaunt with 4:58 left in the third quarter, and set up quarterback Jake Locker's 5-yard touchdown scramble with a 24-yard run early in the fourth quarter.

Much of that came off solid work by free agent signee Andy Levitre at left guard and rookie right guard Chance Warmack, the team's first round draft pick out of Alabama.

"I've been saying for a couple of weeks that we've been close," Munchak said of the running game. "We didn't have the opportunities against San Francisco (Oct. 20) because we fell behind, but we ran it well that day. Today, we ran the ball the way we need to run it."

The Rams (3-6) drove to the Tennessee 26 on their last possession, but Clemens' fourth-down pass for Austin Pettis in the right front corner of the end zone fell incomplete with 10 seconds remaining.

It was the third straight loss for St. Louis, which wasted another outstanding performance by rookie running back Zac Stacy. After carving up Seattle for 134 yards in a 14-9 Monday night loss, the fifth-round draft pick from Vanderbilt gained 127 yards and scored two touchdowns on 27 carries.

"It's good to get into a rhythm, but it's frustrating to end up with a loss," Stacy said.

Much of the pregame talk centered around Fisher, meeting his old team for the first time since going 147-126 in 16-plus years before leaving after the 2010 season. The Rams' second-year coach publicly downplayed the significance of the reunion, pointing out that the Titans only had 16 players from the end of his regime.

He was more worried about the critical errors his team made. St. Louis gave Tennessee three straight first downs via penalty on the Titans' first scoring drive, then denied itself a potential touchdown on its first possession when Benny Cunningham fumbled to Coty Sensabaugh at the Tennessee 10.

"We just have to correct some errors," Fisher said.

Clemens, starting his second game since regular quarterback Sam Bradford tore his ACL at Carolina Oct. 20, hit his first seven passes before cooling off. Clemens finished 20-of-35 for 210 yards and a game-tying 10-yard scoring strike to former Titan tight end Jared Cook with 6:15 left in the game.

Locker hit 13-of-22 passes for 185 yards and two interceptions, but the Rams failed to score points off any of them. Three plays after the second pick, Casey made the play which might just turn Tennessee's year around.

"We came in here with a losing streak," Casey said. "Now we want to win eight in a row."

NOTES: Tennessee FS Michael Griffin (quad) was inactive for the first time in his seven-year career. The Titans also played without starting MLB Moise Fokou and RT David Stewart. ... St. Louis RG Harvey Dahl (knee) missed Sunday's game and is unlikely to play again until Nov. 24, when the Rams host Chicago. Backup RB Daryl Richardson (hamstring) was also inactive for St. Louis. ... The Rams had a moment of silence before the game for the late Bud Adams, who owned the Tennessee franchise from its inception more than 50 years ago before passing away Oct. 21.
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