NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP)—The Tennessee Titans signed only one high-dollar free agent this past offseason. It may be the best move they make all year long.
Punter Craig Hentrich, subbing for injured kicker Joe Nedney, tied his career total with three field goals as the Titans got some revenge for last season’s AFC championship game by defeating the Oakland Raiders 25-20 Sunday night.
“We were heavily criticized during the offseason by the experts for not going out and signing a bunch of free agents,” Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. “A lot of them forget we signed our punter. He was a giant for us tonight, and you can see why he’s so valuable to us.”
Oakland had dominated the two games between the teams last season, outscoring the Titans 93-49.
But in this game, the Raiders could only beat Tennessee in penalties. The teams combined for 28 penalties for 284 yards, with Oakland’s share 17 for 173.
Rich Gannon, Tim Brown and Jerry Rice gave Oakland the NFL’s best offense in 2002, but the trio that sat out most of the preseason couldn’t get much going in front of a sold-out crowd that stood and screamed whenever the Raiders had the ball and a defense that sacked last year’s MVP four times.
Oakland coach Bill Callahan called it a “hard, tough loss.”
“We couldn’t get our rhythm going. We were bagged up with penalties throughout the night, and it’s unfortunate,” he said.
Nedney kicked a 50-yard field goal, then sprained his right knee tackling on the ensuing kickoff return. Then defensive tackle Robaire Smith was ejected in the second quarter for touching an official, which set up Charlie Garner’s 46-yard TD reception from Gannon for Oakland’s only lead—10-9.
Hentrich, who hadn’t connected on a field goal since 1995, hit a 49-yard field goal on his first attempt as the first half expired for a 12-10 lead the Titans never lost again.
He added field goals of 34 and 33 yards in the second half, the last with 32 seconds for the final margin. He also kept punting and took over the kickoffs while improving on a 3-of-7 career record in field goals coming into the game.
“My mind was getting tired. That’s one of the more stressful games I’ve had in a while. Just the constant stress … My body feels fine,” he said.
Steve McNair helped the Titans control the clock for nearly 35 minutes. They outgained Oakland on offense 334-280, and McNair repeatedly scrambled to find his receivers. He was 25-of-38 for 269 yards and two touchdowns.
Jerry Porter didn’t finish the game because of an abdominal injury and had just one catch for six yards. Brown didn’t catch a pass until the end of the third quarter, and Rice had four receptions for 43 yards.
The Raiders weren’t happy with most of the officials’ calls, especially McNair’s final TD. They thought Derrick Mason was out of the back of the end zone, but Callahan said he couldn’t review the play because he was told in their Super Bowl loss that a push-out was not challengeable.
This certainly was not how the Raiders envisioned this season after several veterans took pay cuts to stay together and try to return to the Super Bowl.
“It was almost like just being in a bad dream,” Rice said. “It was anightmare.”
Brown now has 98 TD catches in his career, leaving him two short of Steve Largent for third all-time. … Hentrich had been 0-2 on field goals with the Titans. He left Notre Dame with 39 field goals, second only to John Carney’s 51. … Fisher said Nedney hurt a medial collateral and possibly anACL, and that the Titans may have to audition some kickers.