QB likely a game-time decision

Updated: November 24, 2003, 9:27 PM ET
Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ The Tennessee Titans have seen Steve McNair play through a variety of injuries. So coach Jeff Fisher isn't ruling out the NFL's top-rated passer against the New York Jets just because of a strained right calf.

"We know what his history is," Fisher said Monday. "He wants very badly to play in this ballgame. The last time we played in the Meadowlands, he did not practice and probably won't practice this week."

McNair strained his calf in the second quarter of Sunday's 38-31 victory over Atlanta, and he had a walking boot on his right leg when he limped off the field after the game. Doctors examined his calf Sunday night, and Fisher said they found limited damage. So did an MRI exam on Monday.

That exam, plus McNair being able to use his calf muscle on Monday, made Fisher much more optimistic.

The Titans find themselves in a similar situation to a year ago, when McNair was unable to practice because of a rib injury, took a painkilling shot before kickoff and led the Titans to an overtime victory over the New York Giants in the Meadowlands.

McNair is having the best season of his nine-year career. He has thrown for 18 touchdowns with only four interceptions while completing 65.3 percent of his passes. His 106.3 passer rating currently is more than 16 points better than his previous best of 90.2 set in 2001.

Last season, injuries kept McNair from practicing the final five weeks, yet he led the Titans to five wins and a first-round bye in the playoffs.

"Steve can not be able to walk after a game and not practice all week long, then has an MVP performance on Sunday," defensive end Kevin Carter said. "We're definitely not going to rule him out. That's up to Steve and coach Fisher."

If McNair cannot play, then backup Billy Volek would make his first NFL start. The four-year veteran was an undrafted free agent known more for starting ahead of David Carr in Volek's final two seasons at Fresno State.

The salary cap-strapped Titans chose to keep Volek over veteran Neil O'Donnell at the end of the preseason.

Volek did not play at all in 2002 and threw only three passes in 2001 in one brief appearance. He played in their 33-7 loss at Indianapolis in September when McNair went out with a dislocated ring finger on his right hand.

But until Sunday, he had played in three other games as the Titans emptied their bench late. He helped them rally Sunday from a 21-14 deficit for the victory and went 9-of-15 for 117 yards and a touchdown against Atlanta.

"We've got confidence in Billy," Fisher said. "And for Billy to go out and do what he did with poise and confidence, that just speaks worlds for the system. Now if he does play, we need to continue to make sure he plays at a high level."

If McNair isn't able to play, that would leave rookie Jason Gesser as the backup. The Titans' other options would include punter Craig Hentrich and receiver and former quarterback Drew Bennett, who has missed the past three games with his own strained calf muscle.


Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press