McNair threw a touchdown pass, directed two other scoring drives and the injury-plagued Titans beat the Jacksonville Jaguars 18-15 Sunday.
The Titans won without running back Chris Brown, who missed the game with turf toe. They won with two rookies starting at defensive tackle. And they won with defensive back Justin Sandy, signed from the practice squad this week, being forced into action.
“This is one we snuck away with,” coach Jeff Fisher said.
The Titans won for just the second time in seven weeks thanks mostly to McNair, who finished 18-of-30 for 209 yards despite showing some signs of rust.
“I wasn’t as sharp as I normally am, but that’s typical when you sit out as long as I did,” McNair said.
The reigning league co-MVP was back in the starting lineup for the first time in a month. He bruised his chest Sept. 26 against Jacksonville and re-aggravated the injury a month later against Minnesota. He missed the last two games.
He was off at times, but came through with the game on the line in the fourth quarter.
McNair underthrew Drew Bennett several times deep, was picked off twice and was sacked three times—including once for a safety with about nine minutes to play. The safety gave the Jaguars (6-4) a 15-10 lead.
Josh Scobee missed a 44-yard field goal on the next possession that would have put the Jags up eight points. It turned out to be costly.
McNair led a 59-yard touchdown drive in 37 seconds that put the Titans (4-6) ahead 16-15. He connected with Erron Kinney for 30 yards on fourth-and-1. Then Antowain Smith, starting in place of Brown, scored from 1 yard out. McNair ran for the 2-point conversion.
Smith finished with 95 yards rushing in his first start of the season. He entered the game with 88 yards on 26 carries.
“He had been in the garage, but we let the four-wheel drive out of the garage,” Kinney said.
McNair’s comeback may have spoiled any chance the Jaguars had of winning the AFC South, especially with the way Indianapolis is playing.
But the Jags should get quarterback Byron Leftwich back next week at Minnesota. Leftwich missed the last two games with a sprained left knee.
Garrard, his replacement, played well again but didn’t make many plays against Tennessee’s banged-up defense.
Garrard ran for a touchdown and directed two other scoring drives. He finished 13-of-27 for 129 yards and added 34 on the ground. The late interception was his first turnover in two starts.
Fred Taylor ran for 103 yards, his second straight 100-yard performance and third in the last four games.
But Jacksonville’s defense, coming off a dominating outing against the Lions, wasn’t nearly as good against the Titans. The unit allowed 295 total yards.
“They weren’t anywhere near the type of talented team that they usually are, which is what makes this all the more sickening,” Taylor said. “No way in hell are we supposed to lose that game to that team.”
Especially considering Tennessee’s injury situation.
The Titans were without seven regular starters, including Brown, left tackle Brad Hopkins (hand), defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth (elbow) and linebacker Rocky Boiman (leg). They also were without safeties Lance Schulters (foot) and Tank Williams (knee).
“We knew they would come out fired up because they were like a wounded dog — if you stick your hand out to try to pet it, you will get bitten,” Garrard said.
“This was a big win for this football team considering what they have been through and the things they have had to overcome,” Fisher said.
The Titans have allowed a safety in consecutive weeks. Chicago recorded one in overtime last week that gave the Bears a 19-17 win. … Garrard has three career rushing touchdowns, all against Tennessee. He had two rushing TDs against the Titans in 2002. … Garrard’s interception snapped a streak of 163 consecutive passes by the Jaguars at home without an interception.