HED:McNair comes alive for Oilers
By Ross W. Reily
MEMPHIS - It wasn't like throwing for 500 yards, rushing for 100 and scoring seven touchdowns against Jackson State during the heydays of Alcorn State, but Steve McNair certainly had one of his best days in the NFL Sunday.
Against the lowly Cincinnati Bengals before 17,071 at the Liberty Bowl, the third-year quarterback tallied 264 yards in total offense as the Tennessee Oilers smoked their AFC Central rivals, 30-7.
McNair completed 16 of 30 passes for 299 yards with a career-high three touchdowns and no interceptions. He also ran for a career-high 65 yards on six carries, often scurrying out of the pocket and taking advantage of defensive backs who didn't know whether to cover the pass or protect against the run.
"We finally executed and were able to get our receivers involved in the game," Oilers head coach Jeff Fisher said. "Our quarterback led by example (Sunday). He showed what he is capable of doing. It's amazing how a lack of interceptions affects the outcome of games."
Going into Sunday's game, McNair had five touchdown passes while throwing seven interceptions. But against the Bengals, the Mount Olive native made all the right decisions, finding Willie Davis six times for 79 yards, including two scores. He also hit tight end Frank Wycheck four times for 78 yards and one touchdown.
"We were really able to spread the ball out with Steve scrambling," Davis said. "I think we showed what type of offense we are capable of having with Steve really taking control."
McNair rarely missed opportunities. In the third quarter, Tennessee faced a fourth-and-1 at the Cincinnati 23. McNair waved the kicking team off, went into the huddle and called his own number. The quarterback sneak went for 2 yards and the drive ended in an Al Del Greco field goal.
A dropped touchdown pass later, McNair rolled out of the pocket, faked a pass and ran 12 yards for a first down to the Bengals' 34. On the same drive, he called a quarterback draw on a third-and-5. He ran for 21 yards to the Bengals 10. The next play, McNair hit Davis with a 10-yard TD strike to put the game on ice, 27-0, early in the fourth.
"I thought we played with a lot of emotion and were able to keep Cincinnati off balance," McNair said. "It is important for us to run the ball as well as throw it, and we did that equally well. I felt good all week coming in and knew we had to make things happen. We did that in the third and fourth quarters.
"We put pressure on the defense and I was able to throw or run the ball. I could make the choice and it worked out for 15-20 yards all day, it seemed. We have got to be able to do that next week against the Washington Redskins."
McNair, the Oilers and the fans who showed up were excited about the performance against the Bengals. But it is important to point out that Cincinnati is a team mired in a five-game losing streak, while the Redskins, who host the Dallas Cowboys tonight, are 3-2 and in the midst of a run at the NFC East title.
McNair and Co. did well Sunday, but it will take a repeat performance against Washington next week before visions of playoff games can appear in the Oilers' dreams.
Ross W. Reily is assistant sports editor for the Daily Journal.