Titans visit Oakland for first time since 2002 AFC title game

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) _ It&#39;s been nearly two years since the Tennessee Titans last played in the Oakland Coliseum and lost big to the Raiders in the AFC title game. <br/><br/>Things are so much different

Saturday, December 18th 2004, 12:18 pm

By: News On 6

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) _ It's been nearly two years since the Tennessee Titans last played in the Oakland Coliseum and lost big to the Raiders in the AFC title game.

Things are so much different for both franchises now.

Tennessee will be in town Sunday for its final road game of the season, and both teams are 4-9, beat up and beleaguered _ a far cry from the playoff teams they were such a short time ago.

``When you put that uniform on, it doesn't matter what the record is,'' Oakland defensive end Bobby Hamilton said. ``We're going to be ready and they're going to be ready.

``We've got a lot of guys who have a lot of pride. Now you know you're not going to the playoffs, but what kind of man are you going to be? Are you going to fold up? Are you going to show pride and finish up strong? I know what I'm going to do. I'm going to show we still have heart.''

The Titans didn't have much time to prepare for this one _ they lost 49-38 to Kansas City at home on Monday night. Tennessee, which has lost three straight despite scoring at least 21 points in each, is 4-15 in Oakland. That record shouldn't matter much to the Titans, who had reason to be proud despite losing to the Chiefs.

Receiver Drew Bennett had a career-high 233 yards receiving, the most in the league this season, and caught three touchdown passes from Billy Volek, who threw for a career-high 426 yards in place of the injured Steve McNair. Bennett received intravenous fluids at halftime.

He needs two touchdown catches to reach 10 in a season for the first time in his career and become the franchise's first to reach that mark since Drew Hill in 1988. Bennett will have plenty of family and friends cheering him on _ he went to high school with Ken Dorsey in nearby Orinda.

``It's been such a wild ride,'' Bennett said. ``I would have never expected anything like this.''

McNair won't play again this season. Volek will make his third straight start and sixth overall this season. He helped the Titans gain 542 yards Monday.

``Regardless of the situation, I'm going to go out there and do my best,'' Volek said. ``We're banged up. Everybody knows that. You don't have to keep on saying that; just go out there and keep on doing what I can do.''

At least some of Tennessee's players still have plenty of memories from the Titans' 41-24 loss in the 2002 AFC championship game, sending the Raiders to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1984. Tennessee also lost 52-25 in Oakland in September 2002 before beating the Raiders in last season's opener.

And the Titans have won four of the last six meetings, but they know the challenge of playing in front of the notorious Raider Nation. Especially after Tennessee just participated in the longest regulation game of the season Monday: 3 hours, 42 minutes.

``This is one of the hardest places to win a game,'' Titans tackle Jason Mathews said. ``Dealing with their crowd is also difficult because they are totally different in terms of how loud it can get. Who can forget the way we lost to them in the regular season a couple of years ago? I had some devastating losses in my career and we got blown out that one game. It was a game where everything that could go wrong went wrong.''

That's about how the Raiders feel about their 35-10 flop at Atlanta last Sunday. Oakland had three turnovers and didn't reach the end zone until Zack Crockett's meaningless touchdown in the final minutes.

``I thought our energy was good,'' said quarterback Kerry Collins, whose season has been mired in inconsistency. ``I didn't really see a big drop off in the game. I don't think we were very flat.''

There are several interesting asides to Sunday's game.

Turner was Jeff Fisher's position coach for one year in college at Southern California when Fisher was a cornerback.

Another angle is that Raiders rookie right tackle Robert Gallery, the second overall pick in this year's draft, and Titans defensive tackle Jared Clauss were college roommates for 3 1/2 years at Iowa.

``He always talked about fixing his '82 Buick if he ever made it to the NFL,'' Clauss recalled. ``He had dice hanging from the mirror and fake rims on it when we were in school. He sent me a picture of it the other day and you can tell he put rims on it and has painted the car.

``We used to talk about guys we knew in the league at times and had hoped we could get a chance to play at this level. When his senior season began, we knew he was going to be making a lot of money and starting for a team in his first season.''

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