Facing what has quietly been one of the league’s best passing attacks, the Tennessee Titans could face problems in their passing game with Steve McNair out of their matchup with the Arizona Cardinals.
Tennessee flew to Arizona without the injured McNair, giving backup quarterback Billy Volek his first start this season.
The Titans officially downgraded McNair from questionable to out Saturday after listing him as questionable each day because of back and ankle injuries. He missed each practice, including Thursday when he was excused for personal reasons, and sat out two sessions last week.
Volek will be making his 10th start Sunday after starting eight times last season for an injured McNair.
“I’ve said this for a long time now, even though Steve is the starter, I still prepare myself like I’m the starter,” Volek said after practice Friday. “So, I’m just going to go out there and play my game.”
McNair did not have much success last week as he battled through back spasms, throwing for no touchdowns and two interceptions in a 31-23 loss to Cincinnati.
Rob Bironas’ 29-yard field goal gave Tennessee a 20-17 lead with 5:05 remaining, but the Titans’ lack of experience in closing out games immediately became apparent. Tennessee committed two turnovers in the final 3:09.
The Titans had been trying to win consecutive games for the first time since the end of the 2003 season.
“This is a team that, yes, is young, but we’re trying to get better every week. Obviously, we haven’t gotten over that hump,” Titans veteran linebacker Keith Bulluck said.
The defense could end up being the problem for Fisher this week. Tennessee allowed 268 yards through the air against Cincinnati, and that number could rise against Arizona, owner of the NFL’s second-ranked passing offense at 304.4 yards per game.
The prolific passing attack, however, hasn’t resulted in wins for the Cardinals, who are coming off a bye following their 24-20 home loss to Carolina on Oct. 9.
Josh McCown completed 29 of 46 passes for 394 yards, a career high for the second week in a row, but Jake Delhomme threw a decisive 4-yard scoring pass to Steve Smith with 6:54 to go to give the Panthers the comeback victory.
McCown threw for two touchdowns, but was intercepted three times. He threw one interception from the Panthers 33-yard line after Delhomme’s TD to Smith, and the Cardinals’ last shot to win ended when McCown scrambled on 4th-and-10 but came up inches short at the Panthers 49.
“We moved the ball OK, but you’ve got to be able to score points and you’ve got to be able to slam the door,” said Arizona coach Dennis Green, whose team led 20-10 after three quarters.
Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald became the first Cardinals tandem to top 100 yards receiving each in consecutive games. It was the first time it’s happened in the NFL since 2001, when Derrick Mason and Kevin Dyson did it for Tennessee.
Green has decided who will start at quarterback Sunday, but won’t make his choice public until shortly before Sunday’s kickoff.
“We basically take the position this week the more we know, the better for us it is, and the less that Tennessee knows, the better it is for us,” Green said after Wednesday’s practice.
The two candidates, Kurt Warner and McCown, stood side by side on the podium where the starting quarterback talks to reporters on Wednesdays. Neither would divulge what they knew.
“I have an older brother and every time his friends would get together and talk about stuff and they wouldn’t tell me,” McCown said. “Now I’m in the know and you guys don’t know, so that kind of feels good to me to be on the other side of it.”
Warner started the first three games, but has been sidelined the past two by a groin strain. The off week gave Warner added time for rehabilitation work, and he was taking snaps with the first unit earlier this week.
In the two games Warner missed, McCown threw for 783 yards and four touchdowns with three interceptions.
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