Thursday, December 3, 2009

One City…Two Teams (and no I'm not talking about New York)

Written by: MJK
Five weeks ago the Tennessee Titans were coming off of their bye week a team searching for answers and above all else, their first victory.   This years rendition of the team made it so easy to forget that in 2008 they went 10-0 before losing their first game and went into the playoffs with the NFL’s best record at 13-3.   Fast forward to 2009.  Seven weeks go by and suddenly this juggernaut of a team from just one season prior sat at the bottom of the AFC South standings with a record of 0-6.  Head coach Jeff Fisher’s job security was suddenly being called into question. Under normal circumstances Fisher’s job security could be best described as bulletproof, one of the best and most tenured coaches the league has today.  The pieces to the puzzle just didn’t fit.  Lots of  questions were being asked about where the finger pointing should begin. 

Had Fisher lost his coaching edge? Did the loss of mammoth defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth to free agency really make it so the team could not win a game? Had the rest of the NFL caught up to the Titans ground and pound offensive philosophy? Why was Kerry Collins unable to control and manage the game as he did in 2008? 

While all of these questions are fair and factual in their implications, one thing was definitely for certain…the team needed a spark.  Running back Chris Johnson has been one of the leagues most feared players since coming onto the scene last season, and he was one horse in the stable the team could rely on during its winless stretch to begin this year. He has been the most exciting player in the league this season and his gaudy stats (1396 rushing yards, 10 total TD’s and two games with 200+ yards from scrimmage) are simply jaw dropping.  With five games remaining, he has a decent shot at eclipsing the magical 2000 yard mark. The problem was, he needed a running mate. He got one in Vince Young. 
It is easy to appreciate all that quarterback Kerry Collins did for this team last season, but lets be honest…we are talking about a 37-year old dink and dunk thrower who’s offensive gameplan is relegated to check downs and 8 yard out patterns.  He was the master of game management.  But when his abilities as a game manager began to flounder, change was needed. When the Titans decided to make the change to Vince Young at quarterback, it seemed like it was long over due. Sure he has had his ups and downs (17 picks in 2007, reports of suicidal tendencies and bouts with depression) but the guy has a winning record in the NFL and all the talent in the world.

Since taking over the helm in Tennessee, Young has jumpstarted a team that was in dire need of a swift kick in the ass.  He has led the team to five straight wins and the team has scored 30+ points in 3 out of 5 of those games.  A far cry from the direction the 0-6 version of the team was headed in.  Most importantly, the team now has an outside chance of making the playoffs as a wild card team. This was almost unfathomable 6 weeks ago. There are a lot of exciting duos in the NFL that come to mind, but none possess the same kind of fireworks that Chris Johnson and Vince Young can while on the field together. 

What does all of this mean for VY? Well, obviously he needs to keep winning.  His talent and athleticism has never been in question.  His mental and emotional strength has however. He is riding the high of highs right now, and the true test will come when he faces adversity.  Will he be able to handle the limelight? It is quite apparent that his decision making and accuracy is markedly improved from seasons past, which makes him as dangerous an NFL player as anyone.  If he can harness the intangible of being able to pick himself up when he gets knocked down, the sky is the limit. If these last 5 games are any indication, he is well on his way.

I will never forget watching VY march down the field against USC in the National Championship game in what was probably one of the greatest individual performances in an athletic event I will ever see. So whether it is in college or driving 99-yards and threading the needle on a game winning touchdown pass against the Arizona Cardinals like he did this past weekend in the NFL…football is a better place when VY is at his best.


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