It’s hard to be surprised in today’s world. Even in today’s NFL there are weekly upsets and performances that no one can reconcile. It’s the nature of the game, or at least the funny-shaped ball that never quite bounces the way you’d want to.
When the Titans were 0-6, the sky had literally fallen in Nashville. A once-proud franchise was in ruins. The head coach had lost his team. The retread offensive coordinator wasn’t scoring points. The first-time defensive coordinator couldn’t adjust. A quarterback who was the consummate leader last year started to crack.
The goal-line running back was less effective when the team never got to the goal line. When the chips were down, the receivers couldn’t catch, and the offensive line wasn’t blocking. The defensive line couldn’t get pressure, the linebackers weren’t consistently tackling and the secondary couldn’t cover your grandma.
That ended yesterday, at least in the eyes of some fans. The sad thing, as I’ve learned from a few years of fantasy football futility, is that a win’s a win and next week you have to prove yourself all over again. The team’s still 1-6.
OK, screw that glass-is-half-full-but-with-a-bug-in-it claptrap. We won. In every game so far either the coach made a bad call or we had a bad turnover at the wrong time or the entire team decided not to try at the same time. This week, the Titans got the luck and made their luck. The game plan for Vince Young at QB was brilliant. Throw short, and if that doesn’t work, run. Run even if you’re not going to get the first down. A punt is not the worst thing. That offensive philosophy is Fisher-ball, but it doesn’t work if the defense is lacking. Yesterday, other than a couple of serious breakdowns, it wasn’t.
Would Jeff Fisher have started Vince Young if Bud Adams hadn’t openly called for it in the press? I don’t know. It was hard for Fisher to bench Collins because he signed Kerry to the extension with the promise that he’d start. That promise caused to further sour the relationship with Vince. But even if Kerry Collins is a better QB in the NFL and gives the team a chance to win that Vince doesn’t always offer, the difference in talent isn’t that stark. If Vince Young had not been injured in last year’s opener, there’s no way that he gets benched. Would the Titans have been a 13-3 team? It’s hard to say. Any piece missing from that formula probably means that the season doesn’t work the way it does.
2008 seemed back yesterday, despite the QB difference. When MJD had his second monster run to tie the score at 13-13, the team responded. Last year they always responded. They blocked the extra point and then the offense drove down the field to take the lead. That’s what good teams do. That’s what this year’s team has not done yet.
People talk as if this team will run off a string of wins. I’m not so sure. The trip to San Francisco is going to be tough, and not just because the bridge is out. It’s no longer an insurmountable obstacle. Vince is going to make some bad plays. Yesterday he had a couple of bad throws but played within himself. That’s a tough thing for the former All-American to do. He could play well enough to justify the rest of his rookie contract.
No matter what, the team’s going to need a QB heading into 2010. Either Vince is the starter or Kerry is the starter, and the other guy is gone. John David Booty isn’t the backup QB of the future. If the Bucs are willing to let go of Josh Johnson, I’d love to have him.
I’ve gone this far without mentioning the main reason why the Titans put the game away. Chris Johnson set a franchise record with 228 rushing yards. I thought it was a Titan record, not a Titan/Oiler record. Nope. He surpassed Eddie George, Earl Campbell, and Billy Cannon. Johnson now has five 50+-yard touchdowns. He tried to single-handedly win the Texans game but the defense couldn’t make one play and the offense kept waiting for him to make another play on his own. The 89-yard run that clinched the game was a classic. He didn’t just outrun guys. He made a few moves, ran over a safety, and took off. His end-zone dive was a sign of exhaustion, not a showboating maneuver. The funny thing is he should have had three 50-yard touchdowns but he ran out of bounds on one of them.
Do you think the Titans will try to get him the ball more than 20 times a game now? The team had 300 yards rushing, which excuses Vince’s 125-yard performance. Usually you’re looking at a 10-22 passing day when Vince does that. He went 15-18 and made a few plays that no other QB in the league can make. That’s good. Now do it again.