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Titans rally, then fend off Bills for 28-26 win

Posted: Sunday December 14, 2003 6:46PM; Updated: Sunday December 14, 2003 6:51PM
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  Mark Campbell
Bills tight end Mark Campbell's 6-yard reception with 29 seconds remaining brought his team within two, but Buffalo failed on the ensuing two-point conversion.
AP

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- The Tennessee Titans thought until kickoff that injured Steve McNair would start. He didn't, and backup Billy Volek made sure his absence didn't hurt them -- even though Volek was ill himself.

In his first NFL start, Volek threw for two touchdowns and ran for another as Tennessee snapped a two-game losing streak by rallying for 28-26 win over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.

"What can you say about Billy's effort?" Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. "That is a very tough defense to throw against. Billy hung in there and took a lot of hits. He made big plays."

Volek, a four-year veteran who was undrafted out of Fresno State, filled in ably against the NFL's second-best defense even though he had flu-like symptoms the past few days. He was 26-of-41 for 295 yards in helping the Titans hold the ball for nearly 37 minutes.

"Obviously, my emotions were running pretty high," Volek said. "I found out about an hour before the game after warmups that I was probably going to go."

Volek didn't eat or drink much Sunday and got dizzy in the shower after the game. He even received intravenous fluids.

Buffalo had one last chance to force overtime when Drew Bledsoe drove the Bills 81 yards in nine plays before finding Mark Campbell on a 6-yard TD toss with 24 seconds left.

But Bobby Shaw couldn't control a low pass in the right corner of the end zone on the 2-point conversion try. Shaw said he caught the ball, but it was ruled incomplete. A replay review didn't help.

Erron Kinney recovered the Bills' onside kick to clinch the victory.

Buffalo coach Gregg Williams said he couldn't wait to see the film, and Bledsoe said it looked like a tremendous catch.

"We've seen that kind of ruling a number of times this year with our team, other teams. If you don't possess the ball the whole way down, then they call it incomplete," Bledsoe said.

Said Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck: "It was real close. I'm not certain at all. I'm glad I didn't have to make the call."

Tennessee (10-4) remains the AFC's top contender for a wild-card berth, but Cincinnati's 41-38 victory over San Francisco delayed the Titans from clinching their fourth postseason berth in five years.

The Titans eliminated Buffalo (6-8) by ending the Bills' two-game winning streak.

Fisher was stung by three fumbles lost on special teams in last week's 29-27 loss to Indianapolis, so he took no chances, using Derrick Mason, a Pro Bowl returner in 2000.

Mason caught nine passes for 137 yards and had 165 yards combined on kick and punt returns, which he hadn't done consistently since 2001. Gary Anderson added two field goals.

Buffalo had four sacks, including one resulting in Volek's fumble that Pat Williams returned 28 yards for a TD and a 17-6 lead in the third quarter. But the Bills' defense, which hadn't allowed a team to top 20 points since a loss to Kansas City on Oct. 26, couldn't compensate for an offense that failed to hold a 10-6 halftime lead.

Tennessee sacked Bledsoe three times and held the Bills to 241 yards. The Titans also improved its NFL-best streak to 28 straight games without allowing a 100-yard rusher. Tennessee held Travis Henry to 88 yards.

McNair dressed despite being on crutches until midweek with a cracked bone spur in his left ankle. He didn't start, snapping his 43-game consecutive starts streak.

It was Bulluck's sack and his recovery of Bledsoe's fumble at the Bills 18 that got the Titans going in the third. Three plays later, Volek found Erron Kinney for a 14-yard TD toss. A 2-point conversion made it 17-14.

Volek was 5-of-6 for 51 yards on the next drive, which he capped with a 2-yard TD pass to Justin McCareins for a 21-17 lead in the fourth period.

Volek provided the winning margin with his 1-yard TD run with 4:23 left.

Notes: McNair didn't play for the first time since Sept. 23, 2001, when a sore right shoulder sidelined him. ... Bills DE Aaron Schobel had two sacks, giving him a career-high with 10 1/2 for the season. He becomes only the fifth in Bills history with 10 or more sacks in a season, joining Bruce Smith, Bryce Paup, Phil Hansen and Marcellus Wiley. ... Mason's 32-yard catch in the fourth quarter put him over 1,100 yards for the second time in his career. He joins Drew Hill, Tim Smith and Charlie Hennigan as the only receivers in franchise history to do that. ... Bills running back Willis McGahee was deactivated.

Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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