The veteran threw his third touchdown of the game against his former team with 3:35 left Sunday, helping the Ravens rally from a big deficit to beat the Tennessee Titans 27-26 for their best start.
The Ravens are 7-2 for the first time after trailing by 19 points—the biggest comeback in team history. And McNair had a lot to do with it.
“His demeanor, it just never ceased to amaze me,” coach Brian Billick said. “The calm this man has. At no point have I ever seen him blink there, and there was a few times to blink out there.”
This game had enough to keep it interesting as McNair’s homecoming to play the team that traded him to the Ravens in June because Baltimore offered more than Tennessee was willing to pay.
Then the teams combined for a handful of penalties and just downright weird plays for added measure. Billick even picked up an unsportsmanlike penalty for yelling at an official.
But McNair gave the Titans an expensive lesson.
“That’s why you play this game,” McNair said. “You’re a competitor. Those are the things you go back and look at and say, `Hey, this is what we get paid for: to come back and win games.”
The Titans (2-7) had a last chance to send McNair back to Maryland a loser. But Trevor Pryce blocked a 43-yard field-goal attempt by Rob Bironas with 33 seconds left, allowing McNair to celebrate on the field where he had won so many games before.
“The fact that we came out of here with a win is pretty amazing to me, quite honestly,” Pryce said.
Titans coach Jeff Fisher could only congratulate his former quarterback.
“When you have a chance to win the game, you have to take advantage of it, and we didn’t,” Fisher said.
Baltimore needed McNair because a defense that came in as one of the NFL’s stingiest overall and against the run gave up 162 yards rushing with Ray Lewis sidelined by a sore back.
McNair finished 29-of-47 for 373 yards passing, including a 65-yard TD pass to Mark Clayton that was his longest completion since the 2003 season.
The Titans had every chance to show McNair they’re doing just fine without him.
Lamont Thompson intercepted two of McNair’s passes.
And McNair’s successor and protege Vince Young ran for a touchdown as the Titans scored 23 straight points in the first half, and that included 16 off McNair mistakes—a safety when McNair backed out of the end zone under pressure, a touchdown drive off the ensuing free kick and Travis Henry scored a 1-yard TD run after the first interception.
But McNair, the winningest quarterback in Tennessee history, knows how to win.
Then he put the Ravens ahead to stay by tossing a 12-yarder to another ex-Tennessee teammate, Derrick Mason. Stover’s extra point put Baltimore up 27-26.
The rebuilding Titans led 26-17 at halftime, scoring almost as many points in 30 minutes as they in any game this season against a defense that had allowed only three TDs inside its 20.
But Tennessee could not hold onto the ball long enough in the second half, and a couple bizarre plays took it away when the Titans did.
Fisher challenged, and referee Jeff Triplette upheld the ruling even though replay clearly showed the ball coming out. He said there was a fumble but “no clear recovery.”
“That was a bad call by the umpire,” said Fisher, co-chairman of the NFL’s competition committee who added he never should have had to challenge the call.
Then the Titans faked a punt on fourth-and-6 at their 39. Donnie Nickey handed off to Ben Troupe, who dropped the ball, recovered it and ran downfield to the Baltimore 27. Officials flagged Tennessee for illegal formation, which the Ravens declined, and gave the ball to them at the Titans 37.
Tennessee welcomed back McNair with a video montage before kickoff to Green Day’s “Good Riddance,” with the chorus “Hope you had the time of your life.” Fans responded with a standing ovation for their ex-quarterback.
The Ravens’ previous biggest comeback was 17 points against Seattle on Nov. 23, 2003, a game they won in overtime. … McNair’s 65-yarder was the fifth-longest of his career. … The Ravens sent out their three ex-Titans— McNair, Mason and Samari Rolle—as their captains for the coin toss.