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Browns lose to Titans, 31-15

CLEVELAND – The Tennesse Titans are limping, aching and fighting with each other – and somehow still in the AFC playoff race.

Steve McNair threw two of his three touchdown passes to Derrick Mason before leaving with an injured elbow as Tennessee kept its slim postseason hopes alive for another week with a 31-15 win Sunday over the Cleveland Browns.

The Titans (5-6) hadn’t looked like a team just two years removed from a Super Bowl berth for most of the season before beating the Browns (6-5).

Tennessee may still have to win its last five games to reach the playoffs for the third straight year. But the Titans all seem to be on the same page except for defensive end Kevin Carter and assistant coach Jim Washburn, who got into a heated argument before halftime.

The Browns, now 0-5 against the Titans since returning to the league, wanted to show they were a playoff-caliber squad and even challenged the Titans during warmups when the teams got into a shoving match at midfield.

That was the last time Cleveland was Tennessee’s equal. McNair didn’t play most of the second quarter after bruising his left elbow. He sat most of the fourth period and still finished 11-of-17 for 244 yards.

McNair hooked up with Mason on scoring passes of 43 and 71 yards, and had a 5-yard TD pass to rookie Drew Bennett in the third quarter that put the Titans up 24-7.

Kevin Dyson had six catches for 110 yards and Mason caught passes for 124 yards for the Titans, who still can’t run the ball but may not need to with McNair finding his touch.

McNair’s 71-yard scoring pass with 5:51 left in the third quarter made it 31-7, and he was in for just one play of the fourth quarter before Neil O’Donnell mopped up.

Eddie George, bothered all year by injuries, got just 51 yards on 23 carries and a TD. His backup, Skip Hicks, had 51 as Tennessee rushed for only 111 yards.

The Browns couldn’t get anything going on offense and its defense took a shot when second-year end Courtney Brown sprained his left ankle early in the first quarter and didn’t return.

Tim Couch finished 17-of-26 for 110 yards and Cleveland’s offense, the NFL’s worst coming in, gained 282 yards – most of them coming in garbage time behind backup QB Kelly Holcomb. Kevin Johnson had two TD catches for the Browns.

The Titans were already leading 14-0 and McNair was 7-of-9 for 136 yards with his TD pass to Mason when he injured his elbow. McNair was backpedaling after throwing a pass when his arm was hit by Jamir Miller. The linebacker then accidentally stepped on McNair’s elbow after the quarterback fell.

George scored on a 1-yard TD plunge just 2:59 in after Cleveland’s Quincy Morgan fumbled the opening kickoff, giving the Titans the ball at the Browns’ 20.

The Titans almost had to settle for a field goal, but Browns linebacker Dwyane Rudd was called for holding on a third-down play, giving Tennessee a first down at the 1.

McNair later found Mason over the middle and he outran the Browns down the right sideline as the Titans went up 14-0 with 5:24 left in the opening period.

Joe Nedney kicked a 29-yard field goal one play after McNair was hurt to make it 17-0, but the Browns came back on Couch’s 10-yard TD pass to Johnson.

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