McNair missed practice Wednesday because of a death in the family, and pain from his bruised chest limited him to stretching and exercising with trainers on Thursday.
McNair, listed as questionable for this game, hurt his sternum for the third time in five weeks in Sunday’s 20-3 loss at Minnesota. The injury knocked him out of the game, and afterward he was taking shallow breaths to ease the pain.
Titans coach Jeff Fisher said last season’s co-NFL MVP felt a little better Thursday and has picked up the game plan in meetings.
If McNair sits out against Cincinnati, backup Billy Volek will make his second start this month. Volek came in last week after McNair was injured and was intercepted three times.
“Billy has been preparing himself every week mentally,” Fisher said. “He will get 35 percent or 30 percent of reps typically. So, now that he is getting all the reps it certainly should help.”
The Bengals, though, are the team McNair loves to pick apart. His 20 touchdowns passing are his most against any opponent, and he has been intercepted only three times in 12 meetings. The Titans are 9-3 in those games, winning eight of the last nine meetings.
Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis said he isn’t falling for talk that McNair won’t play Sunday.
“I have been down that trap before with Steve. He is a warrior, and I think if at all possible he will be out there playing Sunday, so we are going to approach the game as though Steve will be the quarterback,” he said.
Titans running back Chris Brown, third in the NFL with 663 yards rushing, has missed practice time this week due to a swollen left big toe. However, it seems likely Fisher will get Brown on the field Sunday.
“You would like for him to practice, but if he is able to run around full speed and do the things, and he is paying attention to everything and you can get him warmed up through the pregame warmups then he should be OK,” Fisher said.
While the Titans are hoping to win their first home game of the season (0-3), the Bengals, after winning their first Monday night game in a dozen years, are hoping to win their first road game of the season.
Also, the team is thinking long-term, as well as short-term, hoping a win at Tennessee can fuel a run at a playoff spot.
Shortly after Cincinnati’s 23-10 victory over Denver, wideout Chad Johnson says last-place Cincinnati is capable of another playoff run.
“Yes,” he said, without hesitation or elaboration.
There is a precedent, though it may not apply.
The Bengals were 1-4—the same as last season—when they pulled themselves together for their first “Monday Night Football” appearance since 1992. Johnson led the way with seven catches for 149 yards, repeatedly beating Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey.
The Bengals are still languishing at the bottom of the AFC North, but they’re no longer a lost cause.
Same as last season.
Cincinnati crawled out of an identical start in Lewis’ first season as coach by winning six of its next seven games, moving up to 7-5 and a first-place tie with Baltimore. The Bengals stayed in contention until the final week, finishing two games behind the Ravens at 8-8.
“We were 1-4 last year and we bounced back,” Johnson said. “We were 1-4 this year and we bounced back.”
They did it once, why not again?
Well, the schedule is much more daunting. The final three road games are in Baltimore, New England and Philadelphia.
“It feels good, but keep in mind we’re only 2-4,” said linebacker Brian Simmons. “There’s no reason we can’t play this way every week.”
Unlike last season however, the Bengals have a lot of ground to make up. They trail first-place Pittsburgh by three games and are 0-3 in division play, so the tiebreakers are working against them.