NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans gave themselves the best confidence boost possible Sunday, winning with their best player on the sideline, resting his aching legs for the postseason.
Steve McNair dressed but didn't play, and veteran Neil O'Donnell threw two touchdown passes to Derrick Mason in his first start since Sept. 23, 2001. Gary Anderson kicked four field goals as the Titans routed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 33-13.
The Titans (12-4) had a chance to win their second straight AFC South title if Indianapolis lost to Houston, and fans stuck around watching the finish of the Colts' game on the stadium's videoboards.
But the Colts' 20-17 victory left Tennessee as the AFC's No. 5 seed, with a trip to Baltimore in the wild-card round next weekend. Baltimore has won the past five games in this series and six of the last seven.
"Off to Baltimore," Titans left guard Zach Piller said as he gave a thumbs-up in the locker room. "Let's go, let's go."
Tennessee had never lost to Tampa Bay at home, and the Titans weren't about to on Sunday. The defense came up with four interceptions, three against Brad Johnson, and had two sacks in holding Tampa Bay to 274 yards on offense.
The loss made Tampa Bay (7-9) the first defending Super Bowl champion with a losing record since Denver in 1999. A team with 11 players already out on injured reserve also lost safety John Lynch (right shoulder) and tackle Anthony McFarland (left ankle) by halftime.
"We will come back energized for next year," Johnson said. "Unfortunately, this year we had a lot of bad breaks, and it just didn't go our way."
Titans coach Jeff Fisher said McNair could have played, but he chose to avoid risking another injury to a quarterback who already has a strained right calf and a sprained left ankle with a cracked bone spur. McNair played last week at Houston but has not practiced for three straight weeks.
The Titans turned to O'Donnell, the man they cut twice this year for salary cap reasons, but re-signed after backup Billy Volek lacerated his spleen in his only NFL start in place of the injured McNair.
O'Donnell hadn't played since two snaps in a playoff game last January against Pittsburgh, but he showed very little rust. The 14-year veteran completed his first three passes and drove the Titans to a field goal on their opening drive.
He found Mason on a 23-yard TD pass midway through the second quarter for a 10-3 lead, his first touchdown pass since Jan. 6, 2001, against Cincinnati.
He added his second, a 34-yarder, late in the third quarter for a 26-6 lead, and finished 18-of-27 for 232 yards.
Then O'Donnell posed with his two sons on the field for photographs, fully enjoying the moment he thought was lost forever when the Titans released him.
"I had a lot of tough Sundays the past four months, but this was one of the better ones," O'Donnell said.
O'Donnell had plenty of help as Eddie George rushed 26 times for 87 yards and became the 17th back in the NFL with 10,000 yards rushing in his career.
Fisher kept his Titans from thinking too much about Houston-Indianapolis by keeping updates off the scoreboard. But the public address announcer gave an update with Houston leading 10-3 in the first half, and the crowd responded with a standing ovation.
The Titans then forced the Bucs to punt, and O'Donnell was 5-of-5 for 42 yards as he drove Tennessee to Anderson's third field goal, a 43-yarder for a 16-3 halftime lead.
The Bucs tried to show spirit in their final game as defending champs. They came out in a hurry-up offense on their first drive, but bogged down and settled for a 27-yard field goal by Martin Gramatica.
Tennessee picked off Johnson for the third time on the Bucs' third offensive play after halftime, which the Titans turned into Anderson's fourth field goal, a 23-yarder, and a 19-3 lead. Shaun King led them to a field goal and had a 14-yard TD pass to Aaron Stecker, but they never got closer than 26-13.
The Titans don't miss a beat with Neil O'Donnell at quarterback. (AP)
|FG||Gary Anderson 37 Yd, 10:53. Drive: 8 plays, 55 yards in 4:07.|
|FG||Martin Gramatica 27 Yd, 6:43. Drive: 9 plays, 46 yards in 4:10.|
|TD||Derrick Mason, 23 Yd pass from Neil O'Donnell (Gary Anderson kick is good), 6:03. Drive: 3 plays, 38 yards in 1:12.|
|FG||Gary Anderson 33 Yd, 1:50. Drive: 6 plays, 18 yards in 2:33.|
|FG||Gary Anderson 43 Yd, 0:00. Drive: 7 plays, 49 yards in 1:16.|
|FG||Gary Anderson 23 Yd, 9:27. Drive: 8 plays, 26 yards in 4:03.|
|FG||Martin Gramatica 33 Yd, 5:22. Drive: 7 plays, 49 yards in 4:05.|
|TD||Derrick Mason, 34 Yd pass from Neil O'Donnell (Gary Anderson kick is good), 2:18. Drive: 5 plays, 64 yards in 3:04.|
|TD||Aaron Stecker, 14 Yd pass from Shaun King (Martin Gramatica kick is good), 13:21. Drive: 10 plays, 71 yards in 3:57.|
|TD||Erron Kinney, 0 Yd fumble return (Gary Anderson kick is good), 2:20. Drive: 3 plays, 17 yards in 1:41.|
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