TV: CBS, Bill Macatee, Steve Beuerlein, Scott Kaplan
SERIES: 37th meeting. Chargers lead series 19-16-1. Jeff Fisher lost his only game against the Chargers by a 13-7 score at Vanderbilt Stadium on Sept. 13, 1998. It was a rare win for San Diego quarterback Ryan Leaf, who turned out to be a first-round bust.
*2004 RANKINGS: Titans: offense 23rd (5th rush, 28th pass); defense 12th (19th rush, 11th pass). Chargers: offense 24th (18th rush, 21st pass); defense 20th (7th rush, 27th pass)
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Titans already struggled against Edgerrin James and Fred Taylor, and will need to improve their tackling if they hope to limit Chargers RB LaDainian Tomlinson. San Diego has trouble moving the ball through the air, but the Titans will be without injured S Lance Schulters, which could open more room for TE Antonio Gates, who has become QB Drew Brees' most reliable target. The Chargers' defense catches an enormous break with Titans QB Steve McNair not expected to play after spending two nights in the hospital with a bruised sternum. Billy Volek is a capable replacement, but the Titans, who have outscored opponents 24-3 in the first half, will lean heavily on RB Chris Brown early on.
FAST FACTS: Titans: Have been outscored by 27 points in the fourth quarter this season. ... Last in the league with 13.3 yards per kickoff return. ... Brown can tie the NFL record by rushing for 100 yards in each of his first four career starts. Chargers: Lead the series 19-16-1. ... Gates has seven receptions on third down.
PREDICTION: Titans 20-13
INSIDE THE CAMPS
The Chargers are desperate for any way to collect yards, other than getting the ball to standout running back LaDainian Tomlinson. That's why having kick returner Tim Dwight and punt returner Eric Parker sit out Thursday's practice raises a few eyebrows.
Dwight has been a spark on kickoffs, returning one 87 yards for a touchdown and averaging 28 yards per return. But after being slowed by a hamstring injury which cost him the first game, someone stepped on his toe in Sunday's game, which has him out again. He was to undergo an MRI on Thursday afternoon.
Parker has been gradually getting untracked handling punts, averaging a shade under 10 yards per return. But he has the speed and elusiveness to break one at any time.
Still, like Dwight, Parker is undersized at 6-foot, 180 pounds. And, like Dwight (5-8, 180), he has already taken his share of punishing hits this young season. Plus, Parker is a starting wide receiver, and has one of the Chargers' three touchdown receptions.
So with the Chargers struggling on offense, and in dire need of advantageous field position, having Dwight and Parker ailing this close to Sunday's game with the Titans is hardly reassuring.
If Dwight can't go, he'll be replaced on kickoffs by Drayton Florence. If Parker is down, he would be replaced by Reche Caldwell on punts.
Both did practice on Friday so the news is improved but it also shows how thin the Chargers really are at the wide receiver position.
Quarterback Steve McNair sat out practice for the second straight day Thursday. But he threw on the side briefly and performed a cardiovascular workout in the weight room, which raised hope that he might be able to play Sunday at San Diego.
McNair, who has a bruised sternum and a sprained ankle, said if he does not start he still expects to be the No. 2 signal-caller for the Titans, who are 1-2.
"I have not ruled him out," coach Jeff Fisher said. "He will be a game-time decision. If he feels good, he's done it before. He can play without practicing."
Despite a litany of injuries, McNair has missed just eight games since the start of the 1997 season. The Titans have gone 6-2 in those games with backups Neil O'Donnell and Billy Volek. Volek will be the starter against the Chargers if McNair cannot play.
"I've been doing it for so long; people know what I'm capable of doing," McNair said. "People know how effective I am, regardless of if I'm hurt or not. Right now, it's just being smart. Do I go out and take a chance of getting fallen on again and miss three weeks down the road or do I sit out and come back next week?
"It's going to be a very intense process this week whether I play or not."
This is the second time he has had a bruised sternum. The last time was 2000, when Tennessee had a bye the following week. He failed to start the next contest but went 3-for-3 on a game-winning drive after he replaced an injured O'Donnell.
He said this injury is not as severe.
"As of right now, (Thursday), I couldn't play," he said. "I couldn't play (Friday), but I've got until next Sunday to see how my breath comes back. The main thing that's bothering me right now is the deep breaths. I can't take a deep breath."
There's also the matter of his left ankle. He had offseason surgery to remove a cracked bone spur but then sprained it in a Week 2 loss to Indianapolis.
"During the course of the game it gives me a little problem," he said. "At the same time I have to manage to play through that and to fight through it. That's mentally what I have to go through. ... It's something that you can't pinpoint what exactly is wrong, but we know something is wrong and we have to find out what it is."