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McNair Rallies Titans To Win

Tennessee's plan was to use quarterback Steve McNair only in an emergency.

When a bloody Neil O'Donnell staggered off the field in the fourth quarter, sirens were going off.

McNair, who had limited practice time all week and didn't start because of a bruised sternum, replaced O'Donnell and threw an 18-yard TD pass with 1:25 left Sunday, rallying the Titans to a 23-20 victory over winless Pittsburgh.

"Steve's a hero," running back Eddie George said. "He's done this numerous times. When our backs are to the wall, he comes out and makes plays. That's why he's Steve McNair."

McNair came in with 2:35 left after O'Donnell, making his first start at Three Rivers Stadium since leaving Pittsburgh, had his lower lip split open on a sack. He wobbled to the sideline, assisted by George.

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  • "He couldn't stay in there," George said. "I looked in his eyes and he was gone. He had blood coming from his mouth and he was dazed. I didn't want the defense to see that."

    After one of Tennessee's equipment managers scrambled to get his helmet, McNair took just a few warmup tosses before entering with the Titans down 20-16.

    On third-and-11 at his own 36, McNair completed a 22-yard pass to Chris Sanders on his first attempt and then ran for 9 more yards, taking a shot as he hit the turf.

    Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher said he held his breath as McNair scrambled and yelled, "Slide! Go down! But that's how Steve is."

    McNair then hit Derek Mason for 15 yards to the 18 before finding tight end Erron Kinney wide open on a blown coverage for the go-ahead TD.

    "I couldn't believe the configuration of the defense," McNair said. "I jst didn't want to overthrow him."

    In five plays, McNair went 3-for-3 for 51 yards, ran for 9 more and then took a knee to run out the clock.

    McNair said it was a good thing that during his limited time practicing this week, he worked on the 2-minute offense.

    "It was the same stuff," McNair said. "It paid off. I prepared all week like I was going to start. I stayed focused and when I went in there it was just a matter of how quickly I could get into a rhythm."

    Kordell Stewart made a gallant try to bring the Steelers (0-3) back. Stewart, who earlier scored on a 1-yard plunge, was forced in when starter Kent Graham injured his right hip with 1:10 remaining.

    Stewart moved the Steelers to the Titans 32, and for the second straight week, Pittsburgh didn't convert a last-second field goal.

    But Kris Brown's 50-yard field-goal attempt with 18 seconds remaining was short, and the Steelers lost by the same 23-20 score they did a week ago when they failed to get the field-goal unit in the game in time.

    "That two weeks in a row that it's heartbreaking," Graham said.

    Al Del Greco kicked three field goals for the Titans (2-1), who won their sixth straight over the Steelers.

    Tennessee, which lost wide receiver Kevin Dyson during the week for the season, came away hurting, though.

    Defensive lineman Joe Salave'a was taken to the hospital as a precautionary measure after injuring his neck in the first half. Tight end Frank Wycheck suffered a concussion while making a catch in the first half and didn't return, and Jevon Kearse has a hip flexor.

    Chad Scott had two interceptions for Pittsburgh, which has lost 10 of 11 and is 0-3 for the first time since 1986.

    "We gave up too many big plays," Scott said. "We can't be giving up 300-yard passing games."

    O'Donnell finished 13-of-27 for 237 yards and two interceptions while replacing McNair. Graham was 18-of-33 for 254 yards.

    Dewayne Washington's interception Pittsburgh's third off O'Donnell helped set up the Steelers' go-ahead score, a 5-yard run by Jerome Bettis that made it 20-16 with 7:50 to play.

    Stewart, benched in favor of Graham as Pittsburgh's starting QB, scored on a 1-yard dive on the first play of the fourth quarter, tying it 13-13.

    Pittsburgh's defense has been giving up big plays all season, and the Titans burned the Steelers on a 67-yard pass play on their opening drive when O'Donnell hit Carl Pickens.

    Tennessee went up 7-0 on the next play on George's 20-yard scoring run.


  • Bettis gained 77 yards and moved past Hall of Famer Jim Taylor into 15th place on the career rushing list.
  • Tennessee improved to 17-2 vs. the AFC Central since 1998.
  • Kearse's NFL record of getting at least one-half sack ended at 13 games.
  • Pickens had his first 100-yard receiving game with the Titans and the 20th of his career.

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