SAN FRANCISCO _ As an offensive lineman, Leroy Harris’ efforts on Sunday might have gone unnoticed by the casual fan.
But they didn’t fly under the radar in the Tennessee Titans locker room after a 34-27 victory over the San Francisco 49ers.
That’s because Harris, a center and guard by trade, stepped into the lineup Sunday, not in one of his normal interior roles, but outside at right tackle for David Stewart, who was inactive because of a hamstring injury.
It was the first time Harris had played the position, and the Titans offensive line didn’t miss a beat, helping Chris Johnson rush for 135 yards, allowing just one sack of Vince Young and not being assessed any penalties on Sunday.
“I’ve never been around a game where you take an interior lineman and make him a tackle, right tackle for that matter, have him never played a position in a ballgame and have him play it the way he did,”
Titans coach Jeff Fisher said of the fourth-round pick from 2007. “That’s a tremendous compliment to Leroy Harris and the rest of the offensive line and coach.”
Harris said the Titans simplified things as best they could for him on Sunday.
“We kept it pretty simple. Take the widest threat, and if he drops, come back in,” he said. “It was a pretty simple game plan, and fortunately for us, we’ve been playing a lot of 3-4 teams. Even though I had never played out there before, I was pretty comfortable with the system.”
Nevertheless, offensive line coach Mike Munchak was impressed with his performance.
“It was the 3-4 concept, and we thought he could go out there and be too much out of his element,” Munchak said. “He’s strong, he’s physical and can match up with anybody. … Mentally, he knows our scheme very well, it was like having another center out there.”
Not so sure
A successful replay challenge by the 49ers cut Chris Johnson’s 81-yard touchdown run down to a 41-yard gain, after replay officials ruled he stepped out of bounds at the 40-yard line.
The video showed Johnson’s right foot on the white out of bound line, but was unclear as if his heel hit the chalk.
“I kind of knew I hadn’t stepped out of bounds. Looking at the replay, I knew there wasn’t significant evidence to show that I had stepped out of bounds and that I had the touchdown,” Johnson said. “I really feel like I run, my heels don’t really touch the ground. I run on my tippy-toes. So I kind of knew I didn’t step out of bounds.”
Fisher wasn’t convinced Johnson was out of bounds either.
“The information I got from the box was that the heel wasn’t down,” Fisher said. “They were adamant about the heel never touched.”
Jumping off point
The Titans had four sacks defensively, including three from the defensive line and a pair of fumbles from those sacks as well. But they came with a price.
Tennessee was whistled seven times in the game for being offsides in the neutral zone or for encroachment. Jacob Ford, who had a key sack and forced fumble, was the culprit on three of the calls, though one penalty was declined.
Asked if coaches would get on to him for the penalties, Ford said, “They can, but I hate myself more for it than anything else, because I don’t jump offsides. For some reason whatever, I happened to jump more times this game than I have my whole career.”
The Titans beleaguered pass defense, which entered the game ranked last in the league, gave up 286 yards passing to Alex Smith, but had three interceptions on Sunday.
Safety Chris Hope, who had one of the picks plus a sack on a blitz, said the Titans can now take more gambles because they have trustworthy veterans in the secondary. Cortland Finnegan and
Vincent Fuller are back and recently signed Rod Hood had his second interception in as many weeks.
“Cortland and Rod, they’re giving our coordinator a chance to call a lot more blitzes and giving them more opportunity to be more aggressive on our defense, and it’s giving our defensive line a chance to get sacks,” Hope said. “Just me and Griff back there by ourselves for those two weeks was frustrating. We have our guys back, even though we’re still not all the way back, it just gives us and opportunity to do so many things.
“When you’re losing, and you’ve got young guys out there, and nothing’s on the same page, it’s kind of hard to let your hair down and play football.”
Gage the rage
Vince Young turned in an error-free performance for the second week in a row, hitting on 12 of 19 passes for 172 yards. He got some big help from Justin Gage on Sunday.
Gage, who has had issues with dropped passes throughout the season, turned in his best game of the year Sunday with four catches for 97 yards. Gage had receptions of 49 and 33 yards in the game.
The 33-yard came between a pair of 49ers defenders with Gage leaping high in the air for the catch.
“I saw the ball in the air, and Vince threw the ball up, and it was one of those things where I can get it or nobody can get it,” Gage said. “He did a great job of throwing it up there, where I can go get it at its highest point.”
Rookie linebacker Gerald McRath started in place of injured David Thornton (hip) and made six tackles on Sunday in his first NFL start.
But McRath’s biggest play might have been at the end of the game when he caught former Titan Joe Nedney’s onside kick to end any chances of the 49ers coming back.
“I was expecting the kicker to get his eyes a little bit big in seeing a No. 51 out there,” McRath said of being on the hands team. “It’s one of those things you have to keep on practicing and practicing, even though you might not see it but one time a year.”
Stephen Tulloch was impressed with McRath’s play at linebacker.
“I’ve never seen a rookie with as much knowledge and understanding of the game. It’s amazing to me. He’s still got some stuff to work on, but the sky’s the limit for his ability,” Tulloch said.
Brett Kern enjoyed another strong effort on punts, averaging 43.4 yards per punt. Meanwhile, the coverage units enjoyed probably their best day of the year, as Kern’s net of 44.0 was even better than his gross, thanks to a minus-3 yard return by former Titan Brandon Jones on one punt.