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TITANS ILL-SERVED BY DWELLING ON THE PAST

The Buffalo Sabres could give the Tennessee Titans a little advice on a topic which they themselves are still learning from the hard way: Forget about the Home Run Throwback the way we didn't forget about No Goal!

Many of the Titans can't seem to get that game-winning shocker against the Bills two weeks ago out of their psyches.

"It's like something or someone is watching over us," said Tennessee's Bruce Matthews, who has been playing somewhere in the team's offensive line for 17 years.

"It seems like every time we need something to happen," added veteran wide receiver Yancey Thigpen, "it happens."

Keep thinking like that, the Sabres could tell them, and you'll end up getting hit by a train, especially in the AFC championship game against the Jaguars Sunday afternoon.

The strange thing is that the Titan who lit the fuse on Home Run Throwback has his mind on the immediate future, not the play of the early third millennium which made him famous, at least for 15 minutes.

Frank Wycheck will forever be remembered, at least in Nashville and Buffalo, as the man who threw the legal/illegal lateral -- depending upon where you stand or live -- which sent Kevin Dyson off on the 75-yard touchdown return which broke hearts all along the Niagara Frontier.

Nevertheless, Wycheck has his mind on the business at hand, good news for Tennessee since its passing offense revolves around its tight ends. Almost every time the Titans meet their AFC Central rivals, the Jags, favorable things happen for Tennessee and tight ends do a great deal of the damage.

The last time the teams met the Titans won, 41-14, for a season sweep. Wycheck caught nine passes for 64 yards and his backup, Jackie Harris, caught a 62-yard touchdown pass. Titan tight ends caught a total of 13 passes for 140 yards.

"It's just our basic thing," Wycheck said. "That's our offense and it doesn't matter who we play."

What Wycheck meant by that is Jeff Fisher, his coach, is a realist. Fisher knows the Tennessee offense does not have anywhere near the explosion to get into a shootout with the heavily-armed Jaguars.

Expect to see the Titans play a great deal of double tight end formations against Jacksonville. That would allow them to give quarterback Steve McNair maximum protection, which he needs against the zone blitzes devised by Dom Capers, the Jags' defensive coordinator who perfected the strategy first in Pittsburgh and later in Carolina where he was head coach. McNair averaged just 94 yards passing in Tennessee's victories over Buffalo and Indianapolis.

Consequently, what Fisher wants to see are short, safe passes to the tight ends, allowing the Titans to control the ball and the clock.

"We think our tight ends can compete with their linebackers," McNair said. "We've got to win one-on-one battles. Those are matchups we think we can win."

Basically, the Tennessee offense is Eddie George running the ball 25 times or more and McNair dinking and dunking to the tight ends. George doesn't need to break a 68-yard touchdown run, as he did last week against the Colts. All he has to do is create third-and-three, third-and-four situations.

"When that happens," said linebacker Lonnie Marts, "next thing you know Wycheck steps off the line of scrimmage, turns around and the ball is right there for him. First down."

One of the unappreciated little factors in Tennessee's makeup is patience. They are content to plod along, as long as the chains are moving.

"We spread the ball around with the tight ends," Wycheck said. "We do a lot of shifting and motion. There's a lot of patterns for us. That goes with our ball-control philosophy. That's just what we do."

It works. At least so far.

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