Matchup brings interest to game

The Chiefs’ top tight end will test the Titans’ star linebacker.
Monday, December 13, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 3:28 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 9, 2008

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Gunther Cunningham knows exactly what he would like to see tonight: Tennessee Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck on Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez.

Cunningham, the Kansas City Chiefs’ defensive coordinator, spent the past three seasons with Bulluck, helping coach him into a star.

Now that he is back with the Chiefs, Cunnigham would like to see how his former player matches up against the NFL’s best tight end tonight.

“I could at least enjoy watching that,” Cunningham said.

Gonzalez wouldn’t mind going against Bulluck. The eight-year player had only three catches in last week’s 34-27 victory against Oakland with the Raiders double- and even triple-teaming him.

Cornerback Charles Woodson was his main defender, and the only time Gonzalez saw a linebacker was when the Raiders tried to jam him coming off the line.

But the five-time Pro Bowl tight end has talked a lot about Bulluck with Cunningham, and he is curious to see how he matches up against one of the top coverage linebackers in the NFL.

“He is a great player,” Gonzalez said. “It is a good opportunity for all of us to see how we stack up against one of the best linebackers in the league.”

Bulluck, the only starter in the Titans’ linebacking corps not to miss a game this season, is ready as well.

“I welcome any challenge, Bullock said. “I don’t back down from anyone, and Tony definitely doesn’t as well. If we’re lined up against each other, that’ll be one for people to pay attention to.”

The matchup might be the best reason to watch a pair of teams whose playoff hopes were extinguished last month.

The Titans (4-8) have lost three of their last four and are just 1-4 at home this season. In the past, they have had one of the league’s best home records.

The Chiefs (4-8) are paying the price for trying to upgrade one of the NFL’s worst defenses by bringing Cunningham back to oversee the unit without changing any personnel. Their offense is second only to Indianapolis, and they have topped 500 yards in a club-record three games this season.

But with a defense that gives up 370 yards a game, the Chiefs have lost six games by eight points or less.

Tennessee has been reduced to emptying out the playbook for any gimmicks possible to help out a team decimated by injuries.

Coach Jeff Fisher used three onside kicks and a fake punt as he tried to keep the pressure off a defense that played six rookies at one point in last week’s 51-24 loss at Indianapolis.

If Steve McNair misses his second straight start and fifth of the season, that puts even more pressure on the Tennessee defense. The Chiefs are without star running back Priest Holmes, who is out for the season with a knee injury.

Gonzalez, the Chiefs’ career receiving leader, needs only seven receptions to pass Hall of Famer Kellen Winslow (541) for third on the NFL record book for most career catches by a tight end. He is leading the Chiefs again this season with 67 catches for 870 yards.

Gonzalez thinks he might get plenty of chances against the Titans’ defense, which now has backups playing in five different positions.

The only question is how many times he might find himself on Bulluck’s side of the field.

“I think the defense they play probably wouldn’t even allow him to be on me for the whole game,” Gonzalez said. “I know I will probably go against him a couple of times.”

Fisher had Frank Wycheck, who retired after last season, for nine seasons, and he said Gonzalez is the best tight end in football right now.

“His route-running ability, his athletic ability, the hand-eye coordination and he is a 6-foot-6, 270 pound wide receiver in their offense that blocks pretty well,” Fisher said.

Bulluck doesn’t consider this a typical tight end-linebacker matchup because he doesn’t consider himself a typical linebacker.

“But if we’re lined up against each other, that will be a matchup that people should pay attention to,” he said.

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