Nashville, Tenn. — The Tennessee Titans had a lot to lose Monday night, and they played like they were afraid of blowing it. Their defense wouldn't let them.
The Titans turned four third-quarter turnovers into 24 points to beat the Dallas Cowboys 31-0 and secure the home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
Tennessee, which finished the regular season with the NFL's best record at 13-3, had to win or switch positions with the Baltimore Ravens as the No. 4 seed. The Titans won the AFC Central title for the first time since 1993 and third overall.
Titans coach Jeff Fisher said the defending AFC champions accomplished their goals for the regular season by returning to the playoffs in style.
"Now the fun starts," he said. "Now it's time for us to play, and we're very much looking forward to the fact that we're playing at home."
Playing on a frozen field with temperatures in the mid-20s, the Titans turned the ball over four times in the first half.
But the Cowboys (5-11) had Anthony Wright making only his second start at quarterback, not Troy Aikman, and they couldn't do anything with the ball. Not even an onside kick on the opening kickoff could jumpstart their offense.
The Titans, who shut out Cleveland last week, allowed only 67 yards in the first half and 95 overall. That allowed Tennessee to pass the Ravens for the NFL's top defense this season.
The honor was fitting for a defense that hasn't gotten much recognition.
"Being No. 1 is a plus for us," linebacker Randall Godfrey said.
"We've just got to continue doing what we're doing."
It got worse in the third quarter as the Cowboys turned the ball over twice in a 21/2-minute span.
Pro Bowl safety Blaine Bishop started the turnover spree, sacking Wright and knocking the ball loose.
Linebacker Eddie Robinson recovered, and Eddie George scored on an 11-yard run a minute into the quarter for a 14-0 lead.
Four plays later, linebacker Randall Godfrey broke through the line untouched and hit Wright. End Henry Ford fell on the loose ball, stood up and rumbled 30 yards escorted by several teammates before diving in the end zone for a 21-0 lead.
On Wright's next play, he tried to find Emmitt Smith on a swing pass, and rookie linebacker Keith Bulluck got into the act by stepping in front of Smith at the Dallas 8 and walking into the end zone for a 28-0 margin.
Before the quarter ended, the Titans tacked on a 21-yard field goal by Al Del Greco for a 31-0 lead.
It was the most points the Titans scored in a quarter all season long, and that took care of any hopes the Cowboys had of avoiding their worst season since 1989 when they went 1-15 in Jerry Jones' first year as owner.
The Titans couldn't get out of their own way in the first half. Tight end Frank Wycheck fumbled after a catch, a punt bounced off Denard Walker's foot to the Cowboys, and Dallas linebacker Barron Wortham intercepted McNair's pass in the end zone shortly before halftime when the Titans were trying to throw to Pro Bowl left guard Bruce Matthews.