Titans have familiar look of a contender |

Titans have familiar look of a contender

Now that the Raiders have abdicated any representative defense of their AFC championship via a Monday Night Annihilation in Denver, the balance of power in the conference has officially shifted.

To which team, we’re about to find out.

Next in line are the Tennessee Titans, the team the Raiders defeated for the right to be annihilated in Super Bowl XXXVII.

The Titans may not be the most talented team in the AFC, but when it comes to toughness, Tennessee takes a backseat to no one in either conference. It starts with coach Jeff Fisher. It’s personified by quarterback Steve McNair. And it’s obvious, this trademark Tennessee tenacity, with every toss to Eddie George.

George isn’t the back he used to be, the one capable of putting a team on his back and carrying it to the last weekend in January. But the Titans are all about running the ball and stopping the run, so Eddie gets his carries. He got 29 of them last Sunday against the Saints, and he got his 100 yards.

George enters the Titans’ latest showdown against the Steelers as the No. 5 active rusher in the NFL, and as the owner of an unsightly 2.9-yard average per carry.

The Titans will continue to give him the ball, anyway, because they’re all about time of possession, field position, defense, avoiding turnovers, and the mindset that pounding away with an Eddie George establishes.

This year’s Titans are also all about what Steve McNair has become and where McNair might yet be headed.

The best quarterback in the league• That’s debatable. But the toughest• If the NFL had such a trophy, it would remain in McNair’s permanent possession.

Now in his ninth NFL season, McNair has established himself as a leader and a decision-maker and a play-maker and a competitor. He’s tough to bring down in the pocket, tough to contain in the pocket and tough enough mentally and physically that his ability to overcome injuries and remain in the pocket, often without the benefit of practice, is becoming legendary.

As George has faded, McNair has emerged as a legitimate MVP candidate.

The Titans will need him to realize their potential this season, now more than ever.

The meeting with the Steelers begins a testing stretch for Tennessee that features four road games in five weeks heading into the team’s bye on Nov. 2. After visiting Pittsburgh, the Titans travel to New England, host Houston and then travel to Carolina and Jacksonville.

This is a team with flaws, as the 33-7 thumping the Titans absorbed at the hands of the Indianapolis Colts on Sept. 14 revealed. But Tennessee is also the team with the best record in the NFL since 1999 heading into Sunday’s game (46-21), and the best road record in the league since 1995 (37-28).

The Titans opened 1-4 a year ago and still made it to the AFC Championship Game.

They’re much more likely to make another such run this season than they are to go the way of the Raiders.

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