McNair's third-quarter escape act saved the day
Posted: Sunday January 23, 2000 09:05 PM
Tennessee quarterback Steve McNair tucks the ball and heads downfield after eluding would-be tacklers. Doug Pensinger/Allsport
By John Donovan, CNNSI.com
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- It was only one play, really, one in a dazzling array of them that, rolled together, became one of the most effective all-around playoff performances by a quarterback in NFL history.
It was a scramble, to boot, a busted play almost from the start. But, because there's maybe no better scrambling quarterback in the business than Steve McNair, this one play turned into something special. Something super special.
Which is why McNair's Tennessee Titans are in the Super Bowl.
"I was just trying to make a play," McNair said after he, almost by himself, marched the Titans past the favored Jacksonville Jaguars in a no-doubt-about-it, 33-14 win in the AFC Championship game. "I was just trying to escape."
McNair made tons of plays Sunday, many of them planned. He ran for 91 yards and two touchdowns, and passed for another, to give the Titans their third straight win this season over their bitter AFC Central Division rivals.
But maybe none of McNair's plays was as big as the Titans' third play of the second half. Down 14-10 at the time, McNair was under center on first down from the Titans' 35-yard line.
He took the snap from center, ran a play-action fake to running back Eddie George, then rolled right -- right into the waiting arms of blitzing linebacker Kevin Hardy.
Or, so it seemed.
Somehow, as he did all season -- certainly all this game -- McNair slipped past Hardy, then scrambled toward the left sideline. Jacksonville end Tony Brackens was putting on the heat, too, but McNair, on the run, found George open downfield and hit him with a 15-yard pass.
Brackens nailed McNair after the play and was flagged for roughing the passer, tacking on another 15 yards, and suddenly the Titans had the ball on the Jaguars' 35-yard-line.
Two plays later, McNair looped a pass for Kevin Dyson down the right sideline, and he drew a 28-yard penalty for pass interference from Fernando Bryant. Two plays after that, McNair slipped in for a 1-yard touchdown and a lead that the Titans never would give up.
"Obviously, he's the guy that beat us today," Hardy said of McNair. "I feel in my mind that [play] was the turning point of the game."
Though he had missed practice this week with a recurring bout of turf toe, McNair was sacked only once, and ran nine times for his 91 yards, including a 51-yard rumble in the fourth quarter up the middle of the Jaguars' defense that set up his second touchdown run.
The game was, in many ways, sweet redemption for McNair, who has taken loads of criticism this season for putting up only average numbers -- despite the fact he is now 12-2 as a starter.
"He better get all the credit in the world," tight end Frank Wycheck said. "He's the heart and soul of this team. He's such a warrior.
"People on the outside looking in should take notice of that, and fully appreciate what he has done."
If they haven't already, they should now.
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