Posted: Sunday December 19, 1999 05:53 PM
NASHVILLE, Tennessee (Ticker) -- Their tight end has as many touchdown passes as their quarterback the past six weeks, but the Tennessee Titans still are in the playoffs.
Steve McNair and tight end Frank Wycheck each threw TD passes as the Titans clinched their first postseason berth since 1993 with a 30-17 victory over the defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons.
Tennessee locked up a wild card spot and stayed two games behind Jacksonville in the AFC Central. The two play in Nashville next week, three months after the Titans handed the Jaguars their only loss.
"We finally got our foot in the door," Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher said. "As far as pursuing things, we have a lot of work ahead of us. We've got a big one this week and we're not finished right now."
The Titans will need a win against Jacksonville to complete a perfect home record. They set a franchise record for home victories today, three years after moving from Houston to Nashville.
"Obviously, today was a huge victory, not only for the city and the fans, the organization, most importanly, the players because of the hard work that they have put in going way back," Fisher added. "I've got to compliment the players."
McNair threw his first scoring pass since November 14 and sixth of the season in the first quarter. He also rushed for a TD early in the fourth as Tennessee improved to 16-2 when he runs for a score.
Wycheck threw a 61-yard touchdown pass to Isaac Byrd in the first quarter as the Titans took the lead for good, 14-7. It was the first pass attempt in his seven-year career.
The undermanned Falcons (3-11) committed six turnovers and clinched no better than a tie with the 1990 Denver Broncos for the most losses by a Super Bowl team. Dan Reeves has the dubious distinction of coaching both.
"First of all, I thought our overall effort was good today," Reeves said. "But we just didn't hold on to the football. There were too many turnovers. Christmas is a week away and we gave them a big Christmas gift right off the bat."
McNair got the Titans off to a quick start, firing a 48-yard TD to Chris Sanders 92 seconds into the game. McNair, who missed five games this season due to back surgery, last threw a touchdown in a 24-14 victory over Cincinnait.
"We wanted to get the passing game going," McNair said. "It has been long overdue for us. The passing game has struggled the last few games and we finally got it going today."
McNair continued to prove his worth on the ground, however, rushing for 76 yards. He set up his own three-yard TD run with a 38-yard scramble.
Wycheck took a pitch from McNair, dropped back toward the right sideline and lofted a bomb to a wide-open Byrd as the Titans went ahead, 14-7, in the final minute of the first quarter.
"It was a play that we put in this week," Wycheck said. "It worked out in practice this week and in the game today. They just told me to get the ball out there and let the receivers do the rest."
The Falcons hung tough on a pair of TD passes from Danny Kanell to Jammi German. Kanell started for the injured Chris Chandler, who missed the game due to a rib injury.
Morten Andersen's 32-yard field goal 3:58 into the second half got Atlanta within 20-17.
But McNair took over with his feet. After throwing a 24-yard pass to Byrd, he scrambled down the right sideline for 38 yards on 4th-and-1 to the 3-yard line and ran in off the left side on the next play.
"I had a run-pass option," McNair said of his long run. "I could have thrown it to Frank but instead of risking an incomplete pass I kept it for a big gain."
Al Del Greco capped the scoring with his third field goal of the day, a 43-yarder.
McNair completed 15-of-29 passes for 216 yards -- his third-best total of the season. Eddie George carried 19 times for only 55 yards as Tennessee totaled 399 yards of total offense.
The Falcons, who completed their road schedule at 1-7, lost three fumbles and threw three interceptions, two by Kanell, who was 18-of-29 for a season-high 237 yards before leaving in the third quarter with a sprained MCL.
Titans linebacker Jevon Kearse set an NFL rookie record for sacks in a season. He had two today, giving him 13 1/2.
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