FOXBORO, Mass. -- It was a dream come true for Mike Cloud -- literally.
Cloud returned Sunday from a four-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy and scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 15-yard run with 3:14 left to give the New England Patriots a 38-30 win over the Tennessee Titans.
"As I went to bed last night, I had visions of something good happening," Cloud said. "I guess the dream was right."
The final five minutes were wild. Before a crowd cheering as much for baseball's Red Sox, Cloud put the Patriots ahead for good with his touchdown run, then Ty Law clinched it with a 65-yard interception return for a TD.
The sequence started with 4:40 remaining when Steve McNair bulled into the end zone from a yard out to give the Titans (3-2) a 25-24 lead, and threw for a 2-point conversion to rookie Tyrone Calico. It came at the end of a 17-play, 86-yard drive that consumed more than seven minutes.
But another rookie, the Patriots' Bethel Johnson, returned the kickoff 71 yards to the Tennessee 30. Three plays later, Cloud ran up the middle for the winning TD, capping a day in which he gained 73 yards on seven carries.
Cloud, who grew up in Rhode Island and played at Boston College, signed with New England from Kansas City in the offseason despite facing a suspension after testing positive for a banned supplement.
As it turned out, his TD wasn't quite the clincher.
The Titans were driving on the next series, but Law jumped in front of Calico and raced down the sideline untouched. Law was playing with a sprained ankle on a defense that has been without as many as nine starters this season.
McNair was trying to take advantage of the three-time Pro Bowl cornerback, by far the best member of New England's secondary.
"I thought I could get it in there with the bad leg he had," said McNair, who was 23-of-45 for 391 yards and ran for two scores. "I don't guess right all the time. He broke on it, did a good job and that was the ball game."
Not quite. Gary Anderson's 41-yard field goal with 36 seconds left cut it to eight points and Christian Fauria had to recover an onside kick to ensure the win.
New England (3-2), which had been averaging less than 100 yards rushing a game, ended up with 161 on the ground, 80 on 16 carries from Antowain Smith. With Kevin Faulk out with a leg injury, Cloud was the only option when Smith was shaken up in the third quarter.
On his first carry, the Patriots were called for illegal procedure. On the next play, Cloud burst for 17 yards. He stayed in for the remainder of the game because he played so well.
"I thought after that first one I might be done for the day," said Cloud, who backed up Priest Holmes in Kansas City. "But I felt good and I felt things would come."
"When you allow your opponent to rush for 160-170 yards and you tackle as poorly as we did and you were ineffective in your kickoff coverage, it makes it tough to win," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said.
The other hero, Law, actually missed part of the second half.
"He was jumping up and down asking me to come in," coach Bill Belichick said.
The Titans scored on their first two possessions, getting a 48-yard field goal from Craig Hentrich and a 43-yarder from Anderson.
Tom Brady's 58-yard TD pass to Troy Brown gave the Patriots a 7-6 lead. But McNair scored from a yard out to give Tennessee a 13-7 halftime lead.
The Patriots went ahead again on a 59-yard drive in 11 plays capped by Smith's 1-yard run on the first drive of the third quarter. Anderson's 33-yard field goal on the next drive put the Titans ahead 16-14.
Cloud's 1-yard run made it 21-16 New England, then Anderson and Adam Vinatieri traded field goals to make it 24-19.
Then came the strange ending to a strange day.
Brown, for example, couldn't figure out what was going on when the crowd cheered after he had a punt return for a touchdown called back.
"It surprised me to hear the cheers, but I knew something good had happened, like they picked up the flag or something," he said.
Not quite that good. But the end was fine.
- Tennessee cornerback Samari Rolle left the game in the second quarter with a dislocated elbow.
- Adam Vinatieri missed field goals of 34 and 39 yards after missing just 1- of-20 from less than 40 yards over the past two seasons.
- New England had seven opening-day starters on the inactive list.
- Hentrich, the punter, was 3-of-7 in field goals in his 10-year career and hadn't made one since 1995. This season, he is 4-for-4.
The Associated Press News Service
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