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Flash Of The Titans Multitalented quarterback Steve McNair has carried Tennessee to the top of the AFC South

Dec. 16, 2002
Dec. 16, 2002

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Dec. 16, 2002

Flash Of The Titans Multitalented quarterback Steve McNair has carried Tennessee to the top of the AFC South

Indianapolis Colts defensive end Brad Scioli lunged and clutched
Steve McNair's jersey with his right hand, yanking with all his
280 pounds of might. But McNair, the Tennessee Titans'
quarterback, twisted and broke free to avoid the sack and then
weaved downfield on a 16-yard scramble. That play kept a late
fourth-quarter drive alive and helped set up the clinching field
goal in a 27--17 Titans win on Sunday that enabled them to snatch
control of the AFC South. Though tied with the Colts for the
division lead at 8--5, Tennessee holds the edge in the tiebreaker
based on its season sweep of Indianapolis. Just as important, the
Titans have momentum. After starting the season 1--4, they have
won seven of their last eight--and the key to the turnaround has
been McNair.

This is an article from the Dec. 16, 2002 issue

Operating against the NFL's second-ranked defense on Sunday,
McNair completed 19 of 23 passes (a career-best 82.6 completion
percentage) for 237 yards and a touchdown, and ran five times for
49 yards. A week earlier he had engineered a 32--29 overtime win
against the New York Giants by passing for 334 yards and three
touchdowns and rallying Tennessee from a 26--14 fourth-quarter
deficit. All that despite playing with a strained rib and a toe
injury that kept him out of practice the last two weeks and
required a pain-killing shot before each of the two games. "He
has a great desire to make plays when it counts," says Colts
coach Tony Dungy. "For him to do what he's done the last two
weeks without practicing is unbelievable."

Make no mistake: As McNair goes, so go the Titans. Tennessee
still prefers to run a ball-control offense, but since its
workhorse, seventh-year running back Eddie George, was slowed by
ankle and knee injuries in 2001, McNair has blossomed. Last
season he set career highs in passing yards (3,350), touchdown
passes (21) and quarterback rating (90.2), while playing a
majority of the season with a painful bone spur in his throwing
shoulder.

The Titans, however, limped to a 7--9 finish and missed the
playoffs for the first time in three years. After undergoing
shoulder surgery last January, McNair entered this season with
great expectations--and for good reason. This is his fourth year
in the same offensive system, and he has spent several seasons
throwing to the same receivers: tight end Frank Wycheck and
wideouts Derrick Mason and Kevin Dyson. He has already matched
his touchdown total of last season, and with a 63.3 completion
percentage and 2,988 passing yards he's on pace to better last
year's marks. "In 1998 and '99 Eddie carried us, and we tried to
surround Steve with good people so he could make plays [when he
had to]," says Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher. "Now we just cut him
loose."

Fisher can do that because McNair, the third pick in the 1995
draft, has matured as a quarterback. "I've learned to be
patient," he says. "When I was younger I rushed things a lot. I
tried to attack the game. Now I get my teammates more involved
before I try to take over." Case in point: Facing a
third-and-eight from the Indianapolis 41 late in the third
quarter, McNair scrambled out of the pocket and threw a 29-yard
strike to wideout Drew Bennett. "That's the kind of play where,
in his younger days, Steve would've run and gotten popped,"
Wycheck says. "Now he picks his spots, because he knows those
hits take a toll. He sees the field more. Those are the ways he's
evolved." --Jeffri Chadiha

COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES WHAT'S THE RUSH? McNair has always been an effective scrambler,but now he picks his spots more carefully.