Tennessee 20 Arizona 17
When we last saw Vince Young and Matt Leinart on the big stage it was 2006 in the Rose Bowl. It was an epic battle between two of college football’s best players and it came down to the final drive. On that drive Young would basically will his team down the field and he finished it off with that run into the end zone to give Texas the national championship over USC. Fast forward to this past Sunday and these two guys were at it again in Nashville. Cardinals starting quarterback Kurt Warner was ruled out and Leinart got his chance. The Cards came in at 7-3 in the NFC West and were looking to pad their lead. The atmosphere was electric before game time and a slight misty rain bothered no one in attendance. The Titans struck first when Rob Bironas hit a 52-yard field goal to give Tennessee a 3-0 lead. It was 6-3 at the half and both teams went into the lockeroom not knowing the drama about to unfold. In the third quarter the teams traded punts and then the Titans got the ball with 3:56 to go. On first down Young went deep to Bo Scaife but the pass was incomplete. So now it was second and ten and the play was a left tackle run to Chris Johnson. He went left, trying to navigate through the crowd and then popped out by the sidelines. A defender tried to get him and he sped up a bit then side stepped another and then he was gone 85 yards for the score. It was the third touchdown run of 85 yards or more this year for Johnson and no one has ever done that in their entire career. He ended up with 154 more yards to tie the NFL record of 125+ yards in six straight games. The record he tied was held by the great Eric Dickerson in the same year he ran for an NFL record 2,105 yards. In fact, Johnson is ahead of Dickerson’s pace for that year. He continues to make it look easy as he piles up the yards. Still he was not the story on this misty day. It was 13-3 and it looked like Tennesse had another victory in the bag but Leinart had other plans. He remembered that day in the Rose Bowl and did not want to go out like that again. He got help from LaRod Stephens-Howling on the ensuing kickoff when he blew past the coverage by Tennessee and ran 99 yards to make it 13-10. So the stage was set for what looked like a fantastic finish. In the fourth the Cardinals were in position to take the lead and they drove 79 yards on nine plays and did just that. Tim Hightower ran it in from six yards barely touched and Arizona was up 17-13 with just over 12 minutes left. The teams once again traded punts and then Tennessee got the ball wth 4:37 left and a chance to take the lead. On third and nine Young hit Kenny Britt on a beauty of a pass that was good for 51 yards. When Britt caught the ball he fell on the turf untouched so he decided to get up and get some more yards. As he got up he was hit from behind, the ball came loose and the Cards recovered it at their own 30. All they had to do at this point was work the clock and the Titans four game winning streak would be over. Instead they went three and out and had to punt the football back to the Titans. The punt should have been returned but instead return man Kevin Kaesviharn let it go and it was downed at the one. So here were the Titans, 99 yards away from a wining touchdown, with a quarterback that had not been known for these kinds of situations. After a seven-yard completion to Britt on first down Young missed his next two passes. It was fourth down and time was not on their side when Young lined up in the shotgun. He threw a pass to Britt that was too high and too close to the defender but Britt reached over the defenders head and made a great catch to keep the drive alive. They were able to move the ball into Cardinals territory but were faced with another fourth down and one wondered if this was the end. Needing just four yards Young hit LaVelle Hawkins for 13 yards and it was now first down at the Arizona 31. There was about 30 seconds left and it was third and five from the 26 when once again Young came through. He hit Jared Cook for 17 yards to the nine and the whole stadium now held it’s collective breath. Three plays later it was fourth down again at the nine and hope had all but run out for a comeback. Six seconds left and an entire stadium stood together to see if another miracle could happen in Nashville. Young got the snap and stepped back but had to come up in the pocket to avoid the rush. It looked like he decided to run when he threw the ball sidearm into the end zone. It felt like time had stood still for just a few seconds as I turned away from the play. A second or two later all I heard was the cheeering and yelling of victorious fans. When I went back to the field to see the replay all I could do was shake my head. Everyone that was a Titan fan was laughing with utter joy. What seemed impossible had just materialized before a crowd of 69,143 rabid fans. The real story though was Young himself especially on that last drive. He started at his own one-yard line and never once did Chris Johnson touch the ball. It was an 18-play drive that will not be forgotten anytime soon. Young has been known for not being able to move the football. For not being able to stay in the pocket long enough to make a play. On this day he became an NFL quarterback that runs through his progressions and he had a career-high 387 yards passing. He was 27-43 wth no picks and only had eight yards rushing. What we witnessed on this day was the maturation of a quarterback that can now become a deadly weapon. Five straight wins with five more to play and the possibility of the playoffs. After the game he spoke like a grown man and praised his players and coaches. He still has a ways to go but if Young continues to improve like this the skys the limit. They go to Indy next week looking to end the Colts undeafeated season and looking for a sixth straight win. If they can puul this one off 10 wins in-a-row is not out of the question.
Indianapolis 35 Houston 27
When the season began it was known that Texans head coach Gary Kubiak needed to get this team over the hump and to the playoffs. He had the talent and had been given time to get this done, but after the last two years of getting close nothing but the playoffs would do for this franchise. So after 10 games they stood at 5-5 with the Colts coming to town. They had underacheved to this point an were looking to knock off the undefeated Colts. They jumped out to a 14-0 lead after one and were ahead 20-7 at the half but knew that would not be enough against this team. The one thing the Texans wanted to do was finish the game. They have had so many heartbreaks because they fail to play four quarters consistently. The third quarter was relatively quiet except for a Colts score when Peyton Manning hit Reggie Wayne from four yards out to cut the lead to 20-14. Now it was time to get nervous if you were a Texan fan because they had been here before. So many times before this team has found a way to lose and they neded this win badly to keep Indianapolis from clinching the division while trying to improve their own playoff position. The thing is the Colts have been making a habit of this comeback stuff recently. They had trailed in the fourth quarter in the last four games and now it was five. Peyton time was fast approaching and Houston knew it. So at the start of the fourth he went to work and at the 8:24 mark he hit Dallas Clark for a six-yard touchdown and just like that it was 21-20 Colts. Now came the test as the Texans got the ball and needed to score but Matt Schaub was off and his pass was picked off by Clint Sessions and he ran it back 26 yards to make it 28-20. With the wind about out of their sails Houston went back to work but to no avail. Schaub gave the game away when he fumbled the ball and the Colts recovered. Later the Colts would score again when Chad Simpson ran it in from 23 yards to put the game away. Houston scored a meaningless touchdown with 18 seconds left to end the scoring. Now the Colts will host the hot Titans next week as the division champs. The question is will they play to their potential or will they let up giving Tennesse a chance at a sixth consecutive win? As for Houston, well they are about done and out the door. The playoffs are now a longshot after such a good start to the season. The question here is will Kubiak’s job still be his at seasons end after another disappointing year? Can the Texans right their ship in time to save his job? With the luck this team has had in recent years it looks like they will be starting from scratch next season.
San Francisco 20 Jacksonville 3
Speaking of inconsistent teams with jobs on the line takes us to the Jags and their season of hope. They too have a head coach who’s job is in question and this game did not help. Coach Jack Del Rio started this year like Kubiak, win or bust. His team is another that has not been able to put four quarters together for a win. On this day they made 49ers QB Alex Smith look like a number one draft pick as he was precise and accurate all day. He threw two touchdown passes while going 27-41 for 232 yards. He is showing more and more why he was the top pick in his draft as he matures. The Jags got a good day from QB David Garrard as he went 25-36 for 307 yards but no TD’s. They have been outscored by west coast teams by a margin of 61-3 and if things don’t get better quick it will be curtains for Del Rio. His team had more total yards, more rushing and passing yards. They had more first downs but it all added up to three points. In the red zone they were not a factor going 0-4. Second place was a lock for this team a few weeks ago but now they have the “red hot” Titans in their rear view mirror. Adjustments must be made in hopes of getting to the playoffs but even if they do the Jags just keep being one of those teams tat cannot get to the next level.