"You can see in their eyes that they have confidence in me," Volek said.
For good reason, too.
McNair, the leading passer in the NFL, left in the second quarter when he hurt his right calf.
At the time, the team listed his return as questionable, but he didn't come back. Afterward, Titans coach Jeff Fisher said McNair was doubtful for next week's game against the New York Jets.
"If I get the nod next week, I'm going to go out and do what I can do," Volek said. "We'll see what happens."
He finished 9-for-15 for 117 yards. Before this season, he hadn't thrown a pass since 2001.
Atlanta (2-9) again played without starting quarterback Michael Vick, out since breaking his leg in the preseason. Earlier in the week, he sprained his ankle in practice, further delaying his return.
"We walked out there and we gave them everything we had," Falcons coach Dan Reeves said. "We don't apologize to anybody."
Justin McCareins scored twice for the Titans (9-2), including a 58-yard punt return late in the third quarter that gave them the lead for good. In the fourth quarter, he caught a 14-yard TD pass from Volek to make it 38-24.
"It shows you what kind of man he is," McCareins said of Volek. "He came in in a really tough situation and really took control of the offense and the huddle. He does that every day in practice."
The Falcons cut the lead to seven on Doug Johnson's 41-yard pass to Peerless Price, then got the ball back in the final two minutes. But a fourth-down pass from Johnson to Brian Kozlowski fell short, and Tennessee ran out the clock.
"I am really proud of the way that Billy handled the game and also the way the players around him stepped up, which is what has to happen," Fisher said. "This was a huge comeback for us and a huge character game."
Johnson started for the first time since the sixth game, replacing Kurt Kittner, He finished with 276 yards, including an 86-yard pass to Warrick Dunn in the first quarter that gave Atlanta a 21-0 lead.
The quick start led to a 21-14 halftime lead for the Falcons, the fifth time this season they've led at the half. They fell to 0-5 in those games.
"During all of these losses, somehow and someway, we've squandered away the lead," Price said.
Allen Rossum ran a punt back 59 yards for the first touchdown, and T.J. Duckett added a 2-yard run to make it 14-0.
Then on third-and-14 from the 14, Johnson avoided the blitz and threw a screen to Dunn. He meandered his way across the field and through the defense, helped by a crushing block by tight end Alge Crumpler.
"It really wasn't even to Warrick," Johnson said. "As I caught the snap, I told him to get out and he just kind of slipped by me. I threw him the ball and he just made a great play up the sideline."
The Titans hadn't allowed an opponent to score a TD in the first quarter in 17 of their previous 19 games.
But McNair threw two touchdown passes to Wycheck before he left, then Volek brought Tennessee back from a 10-point deficit in the third quarter. Eddie George, who ran for 115 yards, scored on a 2-yard run to cut it to three, then McCareins gave the Titans the lead with his return.
|Titans WR Justin McCareins mugs it up after scoring one of his two touchdowns.(Getty Images)|
|TD||Allen Rossum, 59 Yd punt return (Jay Feely kick is good), 12:53.|
|TD||T.J. Duckett, 2 Yd run (Jay Feely kick is good), 7:21. Drive: 7 plays, 55 yards in 3:24.|
|TD||Warrick Dunn, 86 Yd pass from Doug Johnson (Jay Feely kick is good), 0:41. Drive: 6 plays, 86 yards in 3:06.|
|TD||Frank Wycheck, 6 Yd pass from Steve McNair (Gary Anderson kick is good), 12:02. Drive: 6 plays, 62 yards in 3:39.|
|TD||Frank Wycheck, 5 Yd pass from Steve McNair (Gary Anderson kick is good), 11:13. Drive: 2 plays, 8 yards in 0:49.|
|FG||Jay Feely 40 Yd, 9:02. Drive: 10 plays, 53 yards in 5:58.|
|TD||Eddie George, 2 Yd run (Gary Anderson kick is good), 5:03. Drive: 8 plays, 62 yards in 3:59.|
|TD||Justin McCareins, 58 Yd punt return (Gary Anderson kick is good), 2:32.|
|FG||Gary Anderson 22 Yd, 9:26. Drive: 9 plays, 55 yards in 4:25.|
|TD||Justin McCareins, 14 Yd pass from Billy Volek (Gary Anderson kick is good), 7:39. Drive: 3 plays, 21 yards in 1:33.|
|TD||Peerless Price, 41 Yd pass from Doug Johnson (Jay Feely kick is good), 5:05. Drive: 7 plays, 67 yards in 2:34.|
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