I’d love to sit this one out. The current situation between Jeff Fisher and Vince Young is a little too soap-opera-y even for the greatest reality show in TV, the National Football League. But I have to see this one through.
I’d like to hear from Steeler fans from the 60s or Patriot fans from the 60s to the year 2000. These were long-suffering fan bases that finally got to see the light. In the case of Steeler fans, they got to see the light six times, with a rough patch for about 20 years in between. Patriot fans watched bad team after bad team with the occasional flicker of hope that was always dashed.
How many flickers can a fan base endure before jumping ship? The playoff run leading up to Super Bowl 34 was unexpected and fun. Losing a game with home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, which the Titans did twice in the past decade, was somewhat less fun. Losing a game on a dropped fourth-down throw to a shockingly open Drew Bennett was tough. The rebuilding process after the salary cap purge of 2004 made it clear that players often become figures on the balance sheet. Steve McNair in a Ravens jersey was especially tough to bear.
We were rewarded for our patience with the 2006 run with Vince Young, who we believed literally could do anything on the field. 2007 was nice with a playoff return although the defense could bail out the offense only so much. The resurgence of Kerry Collins in 2008 was a revelation, along with a smallish but tough rookie named Chris Johnson.
As I watched Graham Gano miss a potential game-winning field goal at the end of regulation, I said out loud “I wish the Ravens kicker did that in 2009.” The Redskins expect a Florida State kicker to be clutch? Gano needed six attempts to make four field goals but he got his chances.
The Titans had so many missed opportunities in Sunday’s game. I was certain that they would score on the opening drive after a nice Chris Johnson run. On the next play Vince ran, didn’t secure the ball and fumbled. Even after Marc Mariani ran a punt back for a TD, nothing felt right. The defense couldn’t stop the Redskins. McNabb rarely was pressured. The secondary couldn’t cover. Even when the Redskins handed opportunity over, the Titans couldn’t convert. McNabb hit Stephen Tulloch so perfectly on the Redskins’ only TD drive that he dropped the ball. That was a momentum-changer and potentially a pick six. Twice the Titans got inside the ten-yard line and twice they were denied. When there was a holding call on first and goal at the three, they should have put Bironas in there on second down. The crowd actually started chanting “Randy, Randy, Randy” because Vince refused to even look his way. On third and goal the slow eyes of the fan saw Randy breaking free but Vince was in the grasp of a defender.
I didn’t see the play in which Vince hurt his thumb. I just saw him walking off the field. When Rusty Smith came on the field, I tried my “This one goes to eleven” joke in honor of Smith’s number but you can’t try sophisticated humor at a football game. You can only communicate with other fans in grunts, high fives, and yelling anatomically impossible suggestions to the ref.
Rusty Smith is a sixth-round rookie. Do not compare him to Tom Brady. Brady was on the practice squad his entire rookie year, had an entire offseason to absorb the playbook and got his shot in his second year. He also failed to rally his team in his first start. Smith hit Nate Washington on a long pass and appeared to hit Moss for a touchdown, but Moss was called for pass interference. Blame Roddy White for that one.
Vince Young came back out of the locker room like a conquering hero. He threw some test passes to Justin Gage. It was obvious to fans that he was coming back. He never did. We were subjected to the kind of he said/she said shenanigans that adults should leave behind after high school.
It’s hard to put into words how pathetic the Titans’ effort as a team has been the past two weeks. In Miami, the Dolphins were down to their third string QB and for a few plays in the third quarter, exclusively ran the Wildcat formation that’s been all but mothballed this year. Everything worked against a suddenly toothless defense. The same third-string QB who played pitch and catch with Anthony Fasano like it was practice could generate no offense against the Bears the following week. The same Eagles team that the Titans barraged a month ago scored eight touchdowns against the Redskins. Missing two starters in the secondary, that same defense kept the Titans from getting into the end zone.
It’s hard to blame the defensive line. They’ve been playing with a couple of cards short of a full deck most of the year. Rookie Derrick Morgan tore his ACL. Jason Jones left early with an undisclosed injury. Dave Ball and Jason Babin can only do so much. Babin can blow a game for the team, as we found out in OT.
The defense made plays in the first two months of the season. In overtime, they appeared to make another one. On second and 22, McNabb spied Santana Moss (you know, the good Moss) to the left and hit him on the sideline. Alterraun Verner stuck an arm out. The ball bounced into his hands for what looked like the game-winning interception. There was a scrum after the play. The ref threw a flag. There was a personal foul penalty. If it was on the Redskins, the Titans could put Bironas on the field on first down to kick a short field goal. If it was on the Titans, they’d be out of field goal range but would only need a first down or two to get into Bironas range. The scoreboard operator then did something unusual. We only see replays when the play goes in the Titans’ favor. When it’s controversial in any way and the other team could challenge, we never see it. We saw the replay of the interception and the ball clearly hit the ground. It was OT so the replay was initiated by the refs. It just seemed weird. We would be fine because the Redskins would have third and 22.
The personal foul was on Jason Babin and only happened during the continuation of the interception play. If the ball had been called incomplete, there would have been no penalty. No matter. It was first down at the 42 instead of third and 22 at the 27. There was a roughing the QB penalty the following play. Witherspoon hit the very top of his helmet on the very bottom of McNabb’s facemask . If the QB doesn’t even fall down, can you still call it roughing? The Redskins were going to score. It was inevitable.
The long walk up the hill and ride home was made even worse by the postgame departure of Vince Young and comments from Jeff Fisher that clearly stated that injury or no, Young was no longer the starting QB. Frankly, it doesn’t matter if you’re on Team Fisher or Team Young. These two can’t work together. They just can’t. And this season is over even though the Titans are a game out of first place in the division with five divisional games to go. The only drama left is whether Chris Johnson can muster another league rushing title.
I’d hate to see the Titans run through the division, win a home playoff game and lose in the last minute to the Jets, Ravens, Steelers, or Patriots. That would be one disappointment too many.