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Titans tandem is almost enough

With quarterback Steve McNair and running back Eddie George leading the way, Tennessee comes back from a big deficit but comes up short.

By ERNEST HOOPER

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 31, 2000


photo
[AP photo]
Titans QB Steve McNair broke the Super Bowl record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 64.

ATLANTA -- Move over Warrick Dunn and Mike Alstott, the NFL's best running back tandem resides in Tennessee.

They may be masquerading as a quarterback and a running back, but Titans quarterback Steve McNair and running back Eddie George are a rushing roulette that usually comes up a winner.

Super Bowl XXXIV saw both ball carriers showcase their wares, with McNair setting a record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 64 on eights carries, and George adding two rushing touchdowns and 95 yards.

The combination was almost enough to help the Titans pull out a victory, but St. Louis held on for a 23-16 victory. All McNair and George could walk away with was the hope they could return to this game another day.

"I'm still emotionally involved in the game and it's kind of shocking," George said. "But I can go and learn from it. I'm going to take the best out of this. We have something to build on for this organization, and we have an opportunity for next year." Faith was a key word for both stars because Titans coach Jeff Fisher never gave up on McNair during an inconsistent season, and he never gave up on George even though the Rams shut him down in the first half.

The Titans kept going to George, even when they fell behind 16-0. George picked up 45 yards on 10 carries in the third quarter and scored Tennessee's first touchdown. In the fourth quarter, he scored another touchdown to narrow the Rams' lead to 16-13.

"That's how Eddie's played this year," Fisher said. "Eddie wanted to carry the load."

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McNair's contributions were just as critical. He completed 6-of-7 in the third quarter for 39 yards to rally the Titans. During the season, he was sidelined with a back injury and backup Neil O'Donnell played well in his absence. So well some were calling for McNair to be benched.

But Fisher stuck with McNair and eventually his running proved to be the perfect antidote for a Jacksonville team Tennessee beat three times, including in last week's AFC Championship Game.

"Steve's a warrior. He puts it on the line every game," George said. "He tries to find ways to win. I'm very proud of him."

With George and McNair making big plays, Tennessee eventually tied the score at 16 before falling behind 23-16 with 1 minute, 54 seconds remaining.

It looked bleak when McNair was forced to scramble on a third and 5 with 22 seconds remaining, but he broke away from a rush by Rams defensive ends Kevin Carter and Jay Williams, reversed field and hit Kevin Dyson with a 16-yard pass that gave the Titans a first and goal from the Rams 10 with 6 seconds left.

"Steve has the heart of a lion," Fisher said. "Steve has done a great job in the two-minute situation and he did that today. We came up inches short but it wasn't because of lack of execution or lack of effort on his part."

On the next play, it was decided McNair would go to Dyson, who they guessed would be matched against veteran linebacker Mike Jones. They wanted to get the ball to him while he was in stride. McNair threw a perfect pass on an 8-yard slant, but Jones stopped Dyson just short of the goal line.

"The decision was made," McNair said. "Get the ball to the receiver. It was a mismatch that favored us, but with the great linebackers they have, you've got to make plays.

"It was just who was going to make the play and they did it today."

Said Fisher: "We did everything we could to give ourselves a chance to win. We went for two, we went for it on fourth down. We got within six inches of having an opportunity."

But without McNair and George, the Titans would never have had a chance to tie the game.

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