Hasselbeck helps Titans blow past Browns 31-13By TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer Monday, Oct 3, 2011
He broke two team records.
He couldn’t stop Cleveland’s from getting worse.
Matt Hasselbeck(notes) threw three touchdown passes in the first half, safety Jordan Babineaux(notes) returned a foolishly forced pass by McCoy 97 yards for a touchdown and the big-play Titans rolled to a 31-13 win on Sunday over the Browns, Tennessee’s third straight under first-year coach Mike Munchak.
On a blustery day in Cleveland, the Titans (3-1) blew past the Browns (2-2) with ease.
Considered to be in rebuilding mode when the season started, Tennessee is making progress—quickly.
No one more than Hasselbeck.
The 36-year-old quarterback continued his great start with Tennessee. He went 8 of 12 for 194 yards in the first half, when his short completions turned into huge gains as the Titans streaked through a stunned Cleveland secondary that blew coverages and forgot how to tackle.
Hasselbeck finished 10 of 20 for 220 yards—26 on just two completions after halftime.
When the Titans signed Hasselbeck, who spent the previous 10 seasons in Seattle, to a three-year free agent deal in late July, the decision caused some head scratching around the league.
Now, other teams may be kicking themselves.
“We thought he had a lot left in the tank from watching him in the playoffs last year,” Munchak said. “We didn’t bring him here to retire. Our plan was to bring him here and do exactly what he is doing. We feel great about him not only on the field, but with a young team and he has done a great job since he has come in here.
“He has set the tempo in how we practice, expectations, how he leads, how he teaches and that crossed over to the whole team.”
Many of the Titans were playing with heavy hearts. On Saturday, they learned that Mike Heimerdinger, their beloved former offensive coordinator known as “Dinger,” died of cancer at 58. Heimerdinger died while in Mexico to receive experimental treatments for a rare form of the disease.
Heimerdinger and Munchak spent several seasons on former Titans coach Jeff Fisher’s staff.
Tennessee’s Chris Johnson finally broke out of his early-season funk, rushing 23 times for 101 yards, three more than his total in the first three games.
“It is a start,” Munchak said of Johnson, who missed training camp in a contract holdout. “I think we are heading in the right direction there, which was good. He had some runs and we saw some glimpses of good things.”
Playing his first game without injured wide receiver Kenny Britt(notes), Hasselbeck threw a 12-yard TD pass to tight end Craig Stevens(notes), hooked up with tight end Jared Cook(notes) on an 80-yarder and lobbed a 4-yard score to Damian Williams(notes)—all before the half, and all but ending Cleveland’s chance to go 3-1 for the first time since 2001.
The Browns didn’t build momentum following a comeback win last week over Miami, and Cleveland enters its bye with renewed problems the club hopes don’t worsen.
“Disappointing loss,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “This was a team loss. There’s a lot of things we need to get better at, and it starts with me. We just didn’t play extremely well. That’s my responsibility.”
McCoy went 40 of 61 for 350 yards and one TD against the league’s No. 1-ranked defense, which sacked him three times and chased Cleveland’s second-year QB all afternoon. But as he tried to rally the Browns in the second half, McCoy forced a pass that was picked and taken all the way back by Babineaux.
“I should have thrown it away,” McCoy said. “I was just trying to make a play. It’s one of those things you learn from and you wish you could take back. That was a dumb play on my part.”
During the week, Hillis explained that he lost weight while he was ill, and that he chose not to play after arriving at the stadium because he couldn’t help the team.
On Sunday, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported there were whispers in Cleveland’s locker room that Hillis’ decision was influenced by his contract. Hillis is making $600,000 and wants an extension.
“That shouldn’t be an issue,” Hillis said when told of the report. “That’s not an issue in my brain. I’ll go out there and I’ll play. But if I know I’m not 100 percent and I can hurt my team, I’m not gonna risk myself.”
Shurmur said he was made aware of the report following the game. He didn’t exactly defend Hillis.
“Peyton was sick,” he said. “That was my understanding.”
Notes: Titans S Chris Hope(notes) broke his arm in the first quarter. Munchak did not know if Hope will need surgery. Stevens injured a rib and OL Leroy Harris(notes) twisted a knee. … Browns C Alex Mack(notes) got a personal foul for hitting Titans rookie DL Karl Klug(notes). “I tried to pull my hand away and banged him on the face mask,” Mack explained. … McCoy broke the club marks for completions previously held by Tim Couch (36 in 201) and attempts held by Brian Sipe (57 in 1981. McCoy’s 40 completions were five shy of the league record set by Drew Bledsoe (1994).