Titans question Falcons' tactics, hair-pulling

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
ATLANTA -- Jeff Fisher showed the Titans tape of the Falcons' first two preseason games and warned his guys that Atlanta would take things beyond the whistle tonight.

According to several Titans, it panned out over the course of a 17-3 loss just as Fisher predicted.

Defensive back Vincent Fuller was on the receiving end of a knee from tackle Todd Weiner in the first quarter that drew an unnecessary roughness call -- one of nine penalties for 101 yards assessed against Atlanta. The Titans had eight for 62.

"They just do a lot of cheap stuff," Fuller said. "Some of it is in between the whistle, but a lot of it is at the end of the play. If you're standing near a pile, offensive linemen will come and clean you from behind. They're blocking high then somebody else is chopping low. Some of it is illegal but it doesn't get called. A guy today took me to the ground, but instead of the play being over he put a knee on me. There was a lot of unnecessary stuff that we saw that they were doing that we knew we couldn't allow."

Atlanta coach Mike Smith was not happy about how far his players took the tone-setting at times.

"There are a lot of guys who are trying to impress coaches about their passion for the game and how hard they want to play," he said. "We had entirely too many personal foul penalties. It will be interesting to watch the tape. We've got to address that. It's a lot easier to address when you come out with a win."

Titans safety Michael Griffin got called for holding on a first-quarter punt return, and he wound up with his helmet pulled off. He tussled with Daren Stone and had to be restrained. Vince Young was among the players pulling him off the field and trying to settle him down.

Griffin said Stone crossed a line.

"He got my dreads, just pulled my hair," Griffin said. "That got me fired up, pulling my hair, man. My helmet got knocked off and then he grabbed my hair. That's really all there was to it. Hair is fair game, my helmet was off, we got into a little pushing and shoving and pulling match and he pulled my hair.

"When it comes to that, somebody pulling your hair? Not cool. That's disrespect you know? I'm not going to pull on your hair. You've got a problem, don't pull on my hair. Girls pull on hair."

Stone had a different version of events, of course:

"He tried to hit me hard, so I retaliated," he said. "We were just competing and went at it a little bit. But we shook it up at the end. Everything is cool. He kind of has a reputation of latching on and trying to pull you down. That's what he tried to do to me, but everything was within the rules."

The Titans said they figured Atlanta's extracurricular activities were part of the transition to new coach Mike Smith's attitude.

"We came into this game seeing what they did earlier in preseason games, we kind of anticipated it," Kyle Vanden Bosch said. "They kind of do some backside blocks away from the ball, they'll take a shot on guys, pull guys to the ground. We kind of expected it. Our big thing, especially for the young guys on our defense, we weren't going to back down.

"You have to be smart, but at the same time you can't be afraid of things like that. Obviously it's something they're being coached to do. It can make defensive players timid and afraid, but that's not our style. I'm extremely proud of the way we played, the way we stood up, the way we reacted."

Said Fuller: "They have a new coach, he's trying to set a tone. Maybe they didn't play as physical a football as they wanted to last year. And they want to be known as a physical team with coach Mike Smith coming from Jacksonville, so they have a hard core physical attitude and he's just trying to instill that in his players. But there is a right way to go about that, and I don't think they are always going about it in the correct way."

Thankfully, correct way or incorrect way, the three state troopers who guarded the Titans' locker room door after the game were never required to intervene. Seemed like overkill to me, but I guess you can't be too careful.