8:00 PM ET, August 12, 2005
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Steve McNair slammed onto the ground with the ball near his surgically repaired chest. When he bounced up and went back to the huddle, the Tennessee Titans and thousands of their fans exhaled.Matt Bryant kicked a 33-yard field goal 3:02 into overtime, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Titans 20-17 Friday night.McNair, the co-MVP of 2003 who missed eight games last season because his aching chest wouldn't let him breathe without pain, praised the Titans' new offense with Norm Chow. He also expects much more from a team that went 5-11 last season and had a salary cap purge this offseason."We did some good things," McNair said. "We had a couple of turnovers, but that's to be expected early in the preseason. We don't think this is a rebuilding stage. We expect to go out and execute each week."Rob Bironas, competing against Ola Kimrin for the open kicker job, made a 53-yard field goal with 19 seconds left that tied the game at 17 and forced overtime. The Titans couldn't move the ball after winning the toss and had to punt.The Bucs set up Bryant by taking advantage of a 33-yard pass interference call on Titans cornerback Antoine Harris. Earnest Graham, starting in place of top draft pick Carnell Williams, then ran for 24 yards.Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden wasted no time in sending out Bryant to end the game."That was a gut check to say the least," Gruden said.The exhibition opener for both teams was the first test for McNair whose season ended last December when doctors tried to fix the problem by grafting a sliver of bone from his right hip to his chest. He spent the offseason working out and dropped 25 pounds before training camp and his 11th NFL season.McNair didn't wait long to make sure the repair took. He scrambled twice, the last for three yards ending with Bucs cornerback Jermaine Phillips knocking him out of bounds at the sideline."I needed to take that first hit," McNair said. "I didn't want to go the whole preseason without taking that first hit. It felt good to go out and compete."He was 7-of-10 for 67 yards passing and one interception with Tennessee trailing 7-0 at the end of the first quarter.The Titans were happy to see McNair moving around even though he took on Phillips rather than slide."He said if it would've been anybody other than the defensive back he would've slid, but he figured he had some size on him," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. "He feels good, got some kinks worked out and some problems, made some nice throws and was managing the offense well."That's the offense as run by Chow in his NFL debut after 32 seasons coaching some of the best offenses in college. The Titans held the ball for more than 17 minutes in the first half. They also mixed in lots of planned rollouts by McNair, short and deep passes with two turnovers.Tampa Bay had an impressive opening drive even with Mike Alstott watching and Gruden holding out Williams for the Bucs' home exhibition opener next week."We wanted Cadillac to watch this game tonight and get in there for one play," Gruden said. "We faked it to him."Gruden also subbed out for two of his starting offensive linemen, and Tampa Bay opened with a 70-yard drive helped by two Tennessee penalties, including a 31-yard defensive pass interference on Tony Beckham. He started with top draft pick Adam "Pacman" Jones still holding out for a contract, and he drew the penalty guarding Michael Clayton.Graham scored on a 10-yard run on the very next play for a 7-0 lead."I like the way we started," Gruden said. "It was a great first drive. A couple of key drops stymied some opportunities that we had. We are doing some good things, but we have a long way to go."Simms had trouble moving the Bucs until the third quarter with some help from Derek Watson who ran for 42 yards in a 64-yard drive. Simms found Graham at the pylon for a 5-yard TD and a 14-7 lead with 8:17 to go.He finished 8 of 11 for 54 yards. Todd France added a 35-yard field goal that put the Bucs up 17-14 in the fourth.Tennessee got on the board three plays after McNair's interception thanks to a defense that lost five starters this offseason. Defensive end Antwan Odom hit Chris Simms as he threw, and linebacker Keith Bulluck picked off the pass and ran it back 29 yards for the touchdown and a 7-7 tie at the start of the second quarter.Backup Billy Volek tied the game at 14 with a 76-yard touchdown pass to rookie Roydell Williams. He caught it at the Bucs 35 with no defenders around and scored easily.
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