Before I get too far into today’s game description, let’s get a few things out of the way. The Arizona Cardinals are a very good team. They’re going to be a tough out in the playoffs. I bet that they beat the Vikings next week. That defense is strong and hits hard. The receivers catch anything in their area code and both running backs are hard to bring down.
During this modest winning streak, we had yet to see the Vince Young who made the “wow” plays to lead the team to improbable victories. He had led the team to game-winning field goals but nothing like the 2006 season. Today, we got the 2006 treatment.
Before we got to the screaming (but the good time), we had a super boneheaded play. After Vince completed a fourth and one pass to Kenny Britt, there were eight seconds left in the half. A field goal was assured. Vince scrambled. Calais Campbell pulled a Mathias Kiwanuka, bouncing off him. There were two seconds to go. Vince needed to throw the ball away to allow a field goal attempt. He didn’t. The clock ran out. We knew that this play would be critical.
The game was a full on bore fest when Chris Johnson took over. As usual, he looked totally bottled up but was averaging five yards a carry. He took a handoff up the middle and once he had run 20 yards, he was gone. 85 yard touchdown. The Titans were up 13-3.
The game was over. Matt freaking Leinart wasn’t going to lead the team to victory, was he? Well, the Titans forgot about special teams. LaRod Stephens-Howling was a backup running back at Pitt. The Cardinals drafted him in the sixth round. He took the kickoff and went 98 yards for a touchdown. Could the Titans draft a guy like this? Please? Stephens-Howling later would down two punts inside the two yard line. If a special teams guy could single-handedly win the game, he was the guy.
After a really bad pitch to Chris Wells, who did the rookie thing by continuing to run backwards, a Cardinals drive seemed to be stalled. It wasn’t. Leinart made throws and Timmy Hightower took the ball in for the score.
With less than five minutes to go, Vince Young started a drive from the two-yard line. He hit Kenny Britt for 51 yards. Britt lost the ball on the play. Ugh. The Cardinals needed a few first downs. They couldn’t do it. The punt landed at the one yard line.
The Titans had 157 seconds to go. 99 yards. Chris Johnson couldn’t be a factor. It was fourth and four three plays later. VY threw the ball at the defensive back’s head. Britt made the catch. The next play was one of those ‘plays of destiny’, as Calais Campbell tipped the ball directly to Bo Scaife. Five plays later, it was fourth down again. The Cardinals blitzed on third down and it worked. They blitzed again and Young threw a short out to Hawkins. There was a Jared Cook sighting. He caught a pass and turned the corner inside the ten yard line. The Cardinals called a time out to regroup.
Four downs, nine yards to go, 21 seconds, two time outs. Any play is available. They could try to run Chris Johnson, or even run the option, which had not been tried to date. Young missed Scaife on first down. Scaife stopped on a post pattern. On second down Young started to run but hesitated and was brought down at the 11. The tension I had felt for the entire drive was growing. On third down, Young hit Washington inside the five yard line. Touchdown. Except that Washington dropped the pass. Here’s our goat, because an 11-yard pass is too much. The Titans called time out. The Cardinals called time out. It was endless. I couldn’t imagine what it would have felt like to be at the stadium. The play occurred right outside the end zone in which my parents stood.
There were six seconds to go. Vince dropped back. He moved up, throwing the ball. I saw Kenny Britt jump. I knew what was going to happen. Touchdown. The clock operator may or may not have run an extra second off the clock to ensure no additional Stephens-Howling return. I jumped up and down and probably surprised my Funk Bar and Grill hosts. They gave me high fives. That might have been the most exhilarating rally ever.
An 18-play, 99-yard drive with three fourth down conversions. Are you serious? Now, the Titans are officially playoff contenders. When the game ended I thought they were one game out. They are, but only if the Steelers lose. And they already lost to the Steelers, so technically they are two games behind. A ten-game winning streak is most likely necessary for this team to be a playoff squad. They only need to win five in a row, and they’ve already done that. Next week’s game in Indy just got a lot more interesting.