McNair: Gutty, worthy foe

Posted: 7:20 p.m.

No one has to tell the Bengals that the late Steve McNair became one of the toughest quarterbacks the NFL has ever seen. McNair, a former Titan and Raven who won 10 of 16 starts against Cincinnati, has to be a leading candidate to be the quarterback on the Bengals all-time opponent team.

Before McNair retired in the 2008 offseason, he amassed a 91.4 passer rating in those 16 games by completing 61 percent of his passes for 7.2 yards per attempt that resulted in 21 touchdown passes and seven interceptions.

John Thornton, the former Bengals defensive tackle that was a rookie on the Titans team McNair took to the Super Bowl 10 years ago, heard the news of his death Saturday and texted his thoughts.

"I'm shocked and saddened," Thornton said. "Humble guy and a true leader."

He agreed with the observation McNair was the most underrated quarterback of all-time.

"Only teammates and coaches will truly appreciate him for what he did for the team," Thornton said.

McNair was money against the Bengals during his years in Tennessee. When he played against them in AFC Central games, he was 7-2. He was 9-3 against them in his 12 Titans-Bengals games and at one point had 20 TDs against just four interceptions.

The Bengals fared better against McNair when he came back in the division with Baltimore for the final two seasons of his career in 2006 and 2007, when Cincinnati was 3-1 and held him to one touchdown pass.

McNair's reputation as a physical beast that played despite an array of painful injuries is well earned. But former Bengals receivers coach Hue Jackson remembers something even more courageous. Jackson, who became the Ravens quarterbacks coach last year as McNair made an effort to come back from injury, thought he could do it.

"A real pro. Certainly one of the most professional guys I've ever been around," Jackson said Saturday as he digested the news. "It was a new offense, new coaches, but I thought he was doing well with it, and you knew even with all the injuries he was going to beat that.

"But he decided to retire because even though he could do it, he didn't think he could do it at the level he was used to or that he wanted to do it. Can you imagine how much it hurt to make that decision? That took a lot of guts and I admire him for it."

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