9:00 PM ET, December 16, 2002
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Steve McNair didn't need to practice to beat the defending Super Bowl champions.He didn't need to throw the ball, either. After a third consecutive week without a full practice, McNair ran for two touchdowns as Tennessee beat the New England Patriots 24-7 Monday night and pulled into a tie for the best record in the AFC. "I had to use my legs a little more than I anticipated tonight,'' said McNair, who ran for 49 yards and threw for 136 despite his sore ribs. "But I do whatever it takes ... and suffer the consequences later.'' Eddie George ran for 101 yards, Robert Holcombe had 85 and Jevon Kearse made an emotional return for the Titans (9-5), who had the ball for 41:30 of the game's 60 minutes. Holcombe also forced and recovered a fumble to turn an interception by the Patriots (8-6) into a first down and help set up McNair's second TD. "They outplayed us, they outcoached us. It's as simple as that,'' Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "They played a better football game than us.'' McNair was injured in a Nov. 24 loss to Baltimore and has taken part in just one drill since -- a 7-on-7 session on Friday. But Tennessee has won three straight games in spite of it, and eight of nine. "What more can you say?'' Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. "He gets it done again without practicing.'' With the streak, the Titans have overcome a 1-4 start and moved into a first-place tie in the AFC South; they hold the tie-breaking edge over Indianapolis. Tennessee also moved into a four-way tie in the race for home-field advantage in the conference playoffs, with games left against Jacksonville and Houston. "We've got two games left to prove it to everybody,'' Titans receiver Derrick Mason said. "If they don't believe it now, we'll go straight to the playoffs and smash everybody. Hopefully, they'll realize it then.'' New England dropped into second place in the AFC East, a game behind Miami. The Patriots, who had won three in a row and five of six, could still win the division with victories over the New York Jets next week and the Dolphins in the season finale. It was the Patriots' worst game of the year in yardage (176) and points. "It was embarrassing,'' tight end Christian Fauria said. "When it's this bad, it's easy to forget. This is probably the worst loss for me, the way I feel, all year.'' Tom Brady went 14-for-29 for 134 yards and ran for a touchdown, scoring from 10 yards out on a quick-snap sneak and running through the wide open middle to make it 14-7 early in the third quarter. It was Brady's second career rushing touchdown, and his first in the regular season. But Brady also threw an interception that deflected off David Patten. Safety Rich Coady waited for it to come down, then ran 24 yards to the end zone to give the Titans a 21-7 lead. McNair was 11-of-24 for 136 yards and an interception that didn't hurt him, because Holcombe stripped the ball from Terrell Buckley on the return and fell on it to give the Titans a first down. Instead of the Patriots having the ball at the Tennessee 42 with a chance to tie the game early, the Titans drove to the 1 before McNair punched it over to make it 14-0. McNair gave Tennessee a 7-0 lead early in the second quarter when he scrambled out of a collapsing pocket up the middle, slipping out of one tackle before he was crunched -- too late -- by two Patriots at the goal line. Kearse hadn't played since breaking his left foot on the second play of the season opener. Before the game, the Titans introduced the defensive starters to give the fans a chance to applaud the "Freak,'' and he took advantage of the opportunity to ham it up. Limping out of the tunnel, he took off his helmet and dropped to his knees to soak up the cheers, thrusting his hands up in the air. With that, he got back up and ran full-speed through the row of teammates as they welcomed him back. He played only on passing situations.
It was George's third 100-yard game of the season. He's the sixth back to surpass 100 against New England this season. ... McNair has run for two TDs in a game six times in his career. ... Brady's strangest pass of the night came late in the third quarter when he knocked the hat off umpire Brian Baillet on a second-and-11. ... The Titans had to wait through two reviews of plays at the goal line to score just before halftime. Holcombe ran wide right and nearly scored. But officials ruled that the ball -- in his right arm -- never crossed the plane of the goal. McNair scored on the next play, and his TD was upheld after review that he had the ball across the plane. ... The Patriots did not score on their opening drive for the first time in five games. ... Patriots cornerback Otis Smith hurt his arm in the fourth quarter. ... Troy Brown of New England had eight catches for 73 yards.
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