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Bennett catches winner with 17 seconds left

12/22/2003

HOUSTON (AP) -- It's December and Steve McNair is ailing.

Look out.

The Titans quarterback, playing with a cracked bone spur in his
left ankle and a sore right calf, hit Drew Bennett for a 23-yard
touchdown pass on fourth down with 17 seconds left to lead the
Tennessee Titans into the playoffs with a 27-24 victory over the
Houston Texans.

Question on the Titans: Even though we see his heroics often, how amazing is Steve McNair?
Enough can't be said about the Iron Man. McNair plays through all measures of pain and still finds ways to rally his team to victory. He's one of the few players in the NFL who can single-handedly make his team a playoff contender year in and year out.

Question on the Texans: Are the Texans hurting for defensive personnel, or is the unit set back by an anemic offense?
The offense is the problem. This unit needs a dominant style of play and has to work on consistency. Right now, the defense is being left out to dry by the offense. The defense has consistently been left to play 60 or 70 downs per game, and that's way too many. When a defense is on the field that long, big plays by the opposing offense should be expected.

Eric Allen played cornerback for 14 NFL seasons with the Eagles, Saints and Raiders.

Titans coach Jeff Fisher waited until after pregame warmups to
choose McNair over veteran Neil O'Donnell, signed Thursday after
backup Billy Volek went down last weekend with a lacerated spleen.
Volek started last week's victory over Buffalo to end McNair's
consecutive game streak at 43.

"(McNair) was the difference," defensive end Jevon Kearse
said. "If he hadn't been out there, I don't think the result would
have been the same."

Tennessee (11-4) fell behind with 1:48 remaining when Domanick
Davis capped a four-play drive with a 5-yard touchdown run around
the left end.

That put the ball back into the hands of McNair, who got the
starting nod despite a noticeable limp. He drove the Titans 75
yards in the waning seconds, completing passes to Bennett for 20
and 24 yards before hitting him in stride over cornerback Marcus
Coleman in the end zone on fourth-and-10.

"It's always tough, but that's what I get paid for," Coleman
said. "I'll forget about it as soon as I leave here. You've got to
have amnesia and a short-term memory to play defensive back in this
league."

Samari Rolle cinched it for the Titans with four seconds left by
intercepting David Carr, who returned after missing four starts
with a sprained right shoulder.

McNair, who led the Titans to five straight wins at the end of
last season despite not practicing because of injuries, was
17-of-36 for 268 yards and two touchdowns. The Titans qualified for
postseason play when Cincinnati lost at St. Louis a few minutes
before Tennessee's victory.

"I didn't feel that I needed to play, but I felt I wanted to go
out there and get something started even if I didn't finish," said
McNair, adding it was "50-50" on which leg hurt worse.

It was the sixth straight home game decided by less than a
touchdown for the Texans (5-10), the expansion team formed to
replace the Oilers after they moved to Tennessee in 1997. Houston
fell to 0-4 against the Titans, in the playoffs for the fourth time
in five years.

"Today is one of the most disappointing losses I've been
involved with," Texans coach Dom Capers said. "It's disappointing
to me as a head coach because of the way our guys fought."

Things looked promising for Houston when Carr, 17-of-34 for 242
yards, hit Andre Johnson for a 42-yard pass play late in the game
to get the Texans within striking distance. Davis, an offensive
rookie of the year contender, did the rest with a 15-yard run
followed by his scoring trot.

The Texans tied it 10-10 midway into the third quarter when
Marlon McCree picked off McNair's pass and ran it back 95 yards for
the longest play in team history. McNair just missed a diving
tackle on the sideline.

Moments later, Davis fumbled on a hit by Keith Bulluck. Rolle
snagged the loose ball and outran Carr for a 61-yard score.

Comic relief came later in the third quarter when the Texans
tied it 17-17 after Carr scrambled right and hit Corey Bradford for
a 20-yard touchdown strike. Carr and center Steve McKinney
inspected the padding around the goal post, pretending to look for
a cell phone like the one Saints receiver Joe Horn used to make an
end zone call a week ago.

"We talked about it in the huddle right before that," McKinney
said. "We knew we were going to score."

McNair and Eddie George, who rushed for 79 yards, led an early
fourth-quarter drive that ended with a 26-yard field goal by Gary
Anderson to retake the lead.

Neither offense accomplished much in the first half until
McNair's 73-yard connection to Justin McCareins, who almost pulled
cornerback Kenny Wright into the end zone but was downed at the
1-yard line late in the second quarter. McNair hit Erron Kinney two
plays later for 2-yard score and a 7-3 advantage.

Gary Anderson added a 41-yard field goal as time expired in the
half.

Game notes
McNair set a career high with 24 touchdown passes, two
better than last season. He has 3,215 yards passing through 15
games this season, his fourth with 3,000 or better. ... Texans
linebacker Shantee Orr broke his left ankle, and cornerback Kenny
Wright -- starting because of Aaron Glenn's season-ending groin
surgery -- tore a knee ligament.