Steve McNair did it again. His will and three Peyton Manning interceptions have given the Tennessee Titans the reins in the AFC South title race.
For the second consecutive week, turf toe and an injured rib kept McNair out of practice, but for the second consecutive week McNair turned in a remarkable performance to lead Tennessee to a win.
Tennessee (8-5) scored touchdowns on three of their first four drives and added two Joe Nedney field goals in the second half to out-pace the Indianapolis Colts (8-5), 27-17. The win moves the Titans into a first place tie with the Colts in the AFC South, but the Titans hold the tie-breaker.
McNair completed 19 of 23 passes for 237 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions. During one stretch he completed 14 passes in a row. He also rushed for 49 yards on five carries, including runs of 16 and 18 yards. Both of those runs set up second-half field goals to keep the Titans two scores ahead of the Colts.
''Two weeks in a row without practice?'' Titans tight end Frank Wycheck said. ''That's truly amazing. He's just been slinging it out there.''
McNair's 16-yard jaunt on third-and-two in the fourth quarter helped seal the win. The Titans kicked a 29-yard field goal four plays later to go ahead by 10 with 2:46 remaining. Colts defensive tackle Brad Scioli had a shot to bring McNair down on the play, but the 230-pound quarterback broke the tackle and took off.
''It is demoralizing when you keep going after him and you think you have him but he is able to break a play,'' Scioli said.
''Every time we got pressure on him, he would scramble and come out making a killer play. Not just a play that picks up a couple of yards, but one that killed us. He had a phenomenal game and he is a phenomenal player.''
McNair's ability to play through injury has taken the spotlight the past two weeks, but he says it's something he has been able to do since high school.
"My coach told me that when you're in pain you tend to stay more focused on what you have to do," McNair said. ''I took that to heart, and I think that's how I play now. I can just concentrate better when I am playing in pain."
''This is the situation you want to be in,'' Titans receiver Derrick Mason said. ''I don't think any team in the NFL wouldn't want to be in the situation we're in. We decide what happens to us from here on out.''
McNair will continue to treat his injuries, but will have to play with pain again this week when the Titans host the defending Super Bowl-champion New England Patriots on Monday Night Football.
In both losses to Tennessee, Indianapolis out-gained the Titans in total yards but were hurt badly by turnovers.
Peyton Manning threw three interceptions Sunday. Two of them halted possible scoring drives inside Tennessee territory. His final interception of the afternoon was nabbed in the Titans end zone and downed for a touchback by Tank Williams.
One play prior to the interception, it looked as if Manning was going to hook up with Marvin Harrison for a 28-yard touchdown, but Harrison couldn't hold on to the ball.
"Totally my fault," Harrison said after the game. "It was an easy play."
Had he held on to the ball, it would have brought the Colts to within four points, at 21-17. Instead, the Titans drove 63 yards following the interception and kicked a 35-yard field goal to go ahead 24-10.
All news in Indianapolis, however, is not bad. Talk of the Colts moving to Los Angeles has continued all season, but this week civic and business leaders from Indianapolis met to form a group with the intent of keeping the Colts in Indianapolis.
According to colts.com, the Colts-Business Alliance (CBA) is dedicating itself to strengthening and expanding the relationship between the Colts and Indiana-based businesses, and building the fan base.
The Colts travel to Cleveland Sunday to face the 7-6 Browns.
Coaches around the country will be talking about Houston's 24-6 win in Pittsburgh Sunday for years. It was a textbook case regarding the importance of turnovers. The Texans (4-9) offense was dominated by the Steelers defense; the Texans gained just 47 total yards in the game. They punted on their first 10 possessions. They had four drives that went backward, including their lone scoring drive of the game. They had just three first downs in the game. Eight drives went three plays and punt. David Carr completed just three passes in the game. He was sacked four times.
Pittsburgh's offense looked good statistically, anyway. They racked up 422 yards. Tommy Maddox threw for 325 yards. But Maddox will surely remember this game as a nightmare.
On Pittsburgh's opening possession, Maddox scrambled to his right, then dropped the ball as he began to stumble. Texans corner Kenny Wright picked up the loose ball and went 40 yards for a touchdown.
On their next possession, Maddox drove the Steelers into Houston territory, but when he tried to hit Plaxico Burress on a slant, Aaron Glenn stepped in front of the receiver and went 70 yards for another Texans touchdown.
The Steelers kicked two field goals to cut the lead to 14-6, but in the fourth quarter Antwaan Randle El fumbled a punt at the Steelers 20-yard line and Houston recovered. Three plays went for minus-five yards before Kris Brown kicked a 42-yard field goal to put the Texans up 17-6.
Aaron Glenn slammed the door on Pittsburgh's next possession when he intercepted another Maddox pass and returned it 65 yards for his second touchdown of the game.
"We felt there was a certain formula for us to win the game and we talked all week. As you study the Steelers, when they came up on the minus side of the takeaway/giveaway battle, they'd only won one football game," Texans coach Dom Capers said. "We try to point out what it's going to take to win a game and the things that we can't do. As it turned out, that's the way the game unfolded."
With the win, Houston moved to within one game of the Jaguars. The Texans host the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.