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Defense Makes Big Stops With Game on the Line

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Playing for 57 minutes wasn't going to finish the job.

Tennessee took its first lead of the second half with 3:01 remaining but needed an interception and a stop on fourth-and-1 to put away Tampa Bay.

Titans linebacker Colin McCarthy intercepted Josh Freeman with 2:19 left in the game, which led to the third field goal of the day by Rob Bironas and a 23-17 Tennessee lead with 1:44 remaining.

Tampa moved the ball 55 yards and faced fourth-and-1 from the Tennessee 25-yard-line with 46 seconds left. Defensive lineman Jason Jones got penetration, Freeman fumbled the snap and recovered it but Jones tackled him for no gain.

"That fourth-and-1 was huge," McCarthy said. "We were able to get JJ in there, knife it in and get the hit on the quarterback. Coach (Jerry) Gray and Coach (Mike) Munchak have been preaching 60 minutes. Last week (at Atlanta) we weren't able to do that. To bounce back this week and play 60 minutes was huge."

Jones said the defense anticipated the sneak and tried to "bow up."

"He got under center, he was leaning forward and we had a three-man line up there, so the thing I wanted to do was try to disrupt it and get penetration," Jones said.

It was Tampa Bay's fifth fumble of the game. The Buccaneers lost the ball on four of those fumbles and had five of the game's nine total turnovers during a cold, rainy day at LP Field.

Tennessee lost two of three fumbles and suffered two interceptions thrown by Matt Hasselbeck. Aqib Talib returned the second 27 yards for a touchdown early in the third quarter. The Titans (6-5) held the Bucs (4-7) scoreless the final 27 minutes of the game, however.

Jones forced one of two fumbles by LeGarrette Blount on the second play of the game, and defenders frequently went after the ball. Rookie defensive tackle wrestled the ball away from Blount during a 6-yard carry in the third quarter.

"(Blount) would be churning for yards and you could see guys trying to rip it out," Titans defensive end Dave Ball said. "It was like a freebie out there, as much as it was on the ground."

Tampa Bay rarely looked to throw the football deep — it's longest completion came on a screen pass that gained 35 yards — until Tennessee took the lead late.

McCarthy, who played high school football in the Tampa area, was ready when they did. He made his second start for Tennessee and predicted that Freeman was trying to throw to Kellen Winslow.

"They ran a little coverage where Kellen matched up with (McCarthy) and there was just a little bit of miscommunication," Freeman said. "It's just something that at that point in the game can't happen. Looking back, we had our timeouts, we had plenty of time — it would have been fairly routine for us to drive down, but that turnover made things difficult."

McCarthy was still available in the 2011 NFL Draft when Tampa Bay selected LB Mason Foster, who has started 10 in a row for the Bucs, in the third round.

Tennessee grabbed McCarthy in the fourth-round, and he led the Titans with 10 tackles (according to press box statistics) and made the key interception.

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