NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Steve McNair showed the Tennessee Titans what they gave up by not wanting to pay him.

It was an expensive lesson.

McNair threw his third touchdown with 3:35 left Sunday, and his new team, the Baltimore Ravens, rallied from a 26-7 deficit to beat the Titans 27-26 for their best start ever.

The Titans (2-7) had a last chance to send McNair back to Maryland a loser. But Trevor Pryce blocked a 43-yard field goal attempt by Rob Bironas with 33 seconds, allowing McNair to celebrate on the field where he had won so many games before.

Baltimore (7-2) needed McNair because a defense that came in as one of the NFL’s stingiest overall and against the run gave up 162 yards rushing with Ray Lewis sidelined by a sore back.

McNair finished 29-of-47 for 373 yards passing, including a 65-yard TD pass to Mark Clayton that was his longest completion since the 2003 season.

The rebuilding Titans had every chance to show McNair they’re doing just fine without him.

Lamont Thompson intercepted two McNair passes.

McNair’s successor and protege Vince Young ran for a touchdown as the Titans scored 23 straight points in the first half, and that included 16 off McNair mistakes – a safety when McNair backed out of the end zone under pressure, a touchdown drive off the ensuing free kick and Travis Henry scored a 1-yard TD run after the first interception.

Lamont Thompson intercepted two of McNair’s passes. McNair’s successor and protege Vince Young ran for a touchdown as the Titans scored 23 straight points in the first half. They got 16 off a safety when McNair stepped out of the back of the end zone while passing; a touchdown drive following the free kick; and another TD march after McNair threw his first interception.

But McNair, the winningest quarterback in Tennessee history, knows how to lead a team to victory.

He tossed the 65-yard TD to a wide-open Mark Clayton on his second pass of the game. He also found Ovie Mughelli for a 30-yarder in the second quarter that started the comeback, and McNair set up Matt Stover for a pair of field goals.

Then he put the Ravens ahead to stay by tossing a 12-yarder to another ex-Tennessee teammate, Derrick Mason. Stover’s extra point put Baltimore up 27-26.

The rebuilding Titans led 26-17 at halftime, scoring almost as many points in 30 minutes as they managed in any game this season against a defense that had allowed only three TDs inside its 20.

But Tennessee could not hold onto the ball long enough in the second half, and some bizarre plays took it away when the Titans did.

The Titans thought they recovered a fumble when Tony Brown stripped Mike Anderson of the ball in the third period. But officials called Anderson down by contact even though defensive tackle Robaire Smith came up with the ball.

Titans coach Jeff Fisher challenged, and referee Jeff Triplette upheld the ruling even though replay clearly showed the ball coming out. He said the ball was fumbled, but there “was no clear recovery.”

The Ravens wound up punting, and then it got really weird.

The Titans faked a punt on fourth-and-6 at their 39. Donnie Nickey handed off to Ben Troupe, who dropped the ball, recovered it and ran downfield to the Baltimore 27. Officials flagged Tennessee for illegal formation, which the Ravens declined, and gave the ball to them at the Titans 37.

Tennessee welcomed back McNair with a video montage before kickoff to the Green Day tune “Good Riddance,” with the chorus “hope you had the time of your life.” Fans responded with a standing ovation for their ex-quarterback.

AP-ES-11-12-06 1702EST

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