QB McNair smoothly slips into first gear 2nd-year pro shows why he's Oilers starter of future

December 23, 1996|By Roch Eric Kubatko | Roch Eric Kubatko,SUN STAFF

It became official yesterday: The Houston Oilers are Steve McNair's team. And judging by yesterday's performance, they're good hands.

And swift feet. And sound mind.

Making his fourth start this season, and the sixth of his career, McNair calmly directed Houston to a 24-21 victory over the Ravens at Memorial Stadium by throwing for 238 yards and a touchdown, and running for another.

His passes were crisp, his thinking clear. Rather than having a bad case of the jitters, the second-year pro was having a ball, running his record as a starter to 4-2.

"I wanted to get the game plan down on Wednesday and that's what I did. Once you know the game plan, you can go out there and feel comfortable," said McNair, 6 feet 2 and 224 pounds.

The season ended for both teams yesterday, but McNair's era was just beginning. He won't have Chris Chandler to contend with next year. The job belongs to him.

"That decision is not left up to me," said McNair, the third overall pick in the 1995 draft, "but I'm just going to go out there each and every week and try to do the things it takes to put this ballclub in position to win. I'm going to bust my butt to do what I can to win."

"Obviously," said coach Jeff Fisher, "we drafted Steve to be our future."

The future is now.

"I thought Steve did a great job today," Fisher said. "He was really into the ballgame. He spread the ball around well and the people around him made plays."

Chandler's last gasp as an Oiler came last weekend, when his three interceptions against Cincinnati contributed to a 21-13 home loss that eliminated Houston from playoff contention. McNair completed 19 of 24 passes yesterday and wasn't intercepted. He also gained 41 yards on nine rushes.

"He can definitely play," said offensive tackle Irv Eatman. "When he's in there, you just let him do his thing. He's risen to the occasion every time he's gotten the opportunity."

"He's very much where we want him to be," said offensive coordinator Jerry Rhome. "He's coming along fine. He's been patient and he's been a gentleman."

McNair drove the Oilers 84 yards in 13 plays on their only possession of the third quarter. He ate up 8: 38 by devouring a Ravens defense that came into the game ranked 30th in the NFL.

McNair was 6-for-7 for 56 yards, the only incompletion coming on a drop by Eddie George. He either rolled out, stepped up in the pocket or stood his ground and fired. Once, Ravens tackle Dan Footman plowed into him just as he released the ball, but the pass was completed to Rodney Thomas for 13 yards and a first down.

The last 24 yards of the drive were consumed by McNair, who ran up the middle after finding nobody open, then cut to his right at the 5 rather than slide in front of a cluster of would-be tacklers and lunged into the end zone.

McNair's poise showed up in another area: Houston was 9-for-15 on third-down conversions. And his 2-yard sneak on fourth down with less than five minutes left enabled the Oilers to milk another 2: 15 off the clock.

His touchdown pass went 19 yards to Willie Davis with less than two minutes left in the first half, giving Houston a 17-7 lead. McNair came from Alcorn State with a reputation for having a strong arm, but he showed a nice touch in delivering the ball to Davis near the back of the end zone.

"We never could stop him," Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda said of McNair. "He made big plays and had a high [completion] percentage -- too high for us to win."

Pub Date: 12/23/96

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