Tennessee (10-4) at Houston (5-9)

Partly Cloudy Currently: Houston, TX
Temp: 69° F
  • Game info: 1:00 pm EST Sun Dec 21, 2003
  • TV: CBS
Preview | Box Score | Recap

Playing with pain is something Steve McNair is familiar with.

He’ll likely have to do it again as the Tennessee Titans try to clinch their fourth postseason berth in five years when they take on the Houston Texans.

The Titans hoped to rest McNair this week, but will likely start their star quarterback as backup Billy Volek is out for the season with a lacerated spleen.

McNair is nursing an injured ankle and right calf, but is needed because Tennessee has yet to secure a playoff spot. Tennessee will qualify for the playoffs with a win, or a loss by the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals or Miami Dolphins.

Volek was hurt Sunday while leading the Titans to a 28-26 victory over the Buffalo Bills. That leaves rookie Jason Gesser and recently signed Neil O’Donnell as the only healthy options.

Gesser, signed as an undrafted free agent, has yet to play a down in the NFL, while O’Donnell has been out of football all season after being cut by the Titans on Aug. 31.

“The fact of the matter is Steve was ready last week, and he was wanting to play,” Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher said.

McNair, one of the NFL’s most durable quarterbacks, played with injuries often during a streak of 43 straight starts that ended last week.

Volek played well in McNair’s absence, throwing for two touchdowns and running for another. The injury wasn’t announced until Monday night, when Volek was hospitalized.

The Titans signed O’Donnell on Thursday, and he worked with the first team in practice.

Fisher said O’Donnell did well studying the game plan in the hours before practice, and the veteran would have started if the Titans had to play Thursday.

“That kind of tells you why he’s here, why it’s important for us to get him back. If Steve’s able to play, then Neil will back up, so we’ll just take it from there. But right now Steve’s still struggling with the leg,” Fisher said.

Titans receiver Derrick Mason is coming off a big game, catching nine passes for 137 yards, and returning punts and kicks for an additional 165 yards. He had not done both since 2001, but took over after the Titans lost three special teams fumbles last week.

Houston may be able to field its No. 1 quarterback as David Carr has been elevated to “probable” on the Texans’ injury report, an indication he’ll return to the lineup after missing four straight starts with a sprained right shoulder.

Carr hurt his shoulder Nov. 16 at Buffalo. He played the second half two weeks later to lead Houston to a comeback victory over Atlanta after backup Tony Banks was lost for the season with a broken hand. Carr returned to the bench after re-aggravating the shoulder.

“Our plan is to have him do a little more in practice,” Texans coach Dom Capers said. “Hopefully, he’ll respond the way we hope he’ll respond, and in that case he’ll be the starter.”

In two starts in place of Carr, rookie Dave Ragone was 20-of-40 for 135 yards and an interception.

Running back Domanick Davis returned to the lineup in Sunday’s 16-3 loss to the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After sitting out the previous week with a leg injury, Davis was held to 56 yards on 16 carries.

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