It was not a perfect 10. Far from it, in fact.
However, the first 10 games of the Tennessee Titans’ season provided something to affirm anything anyone might have thought about them back in August or anytime prior to the Sept. 9 opener.
The one thing that was missing after nine weeks was a strong, well-rounded, definitive victory. That finally came Sunday in South Florida when the Titans whipped up on the Miami Dolphins 37-3 in a game that featured four takeaways by the defense, another Chris Johnson highlight-reel run and the return to the starting lineup of quarterback-of-the-future Jake Locker.
Assuming there were still some who thought this was a team that could dominate an opponent from start to finish, this was the one they waited for.
The offense was opportunistic and capitalized on every turnover forced by the suddenly stout defense. Locker and Co. turned one fumble recovery and two interceptions into one touchdown and two field goals. The defense handled the other itself when linebacker Colin McCarthy returned an interception 49 yards for a touchdown despite a still-gimpy ankle.
Some who had been rewarded with big contracts recently played like they deserved every penny. Johnson’s third 100-yard game in the last four weeks included a start-left, cut-right, weave-through-the-defense 17-yard touchdown run, and cornerback Jason McCourty effectively changed the game for good with his forced fumble in the first quarter.
Players handpicked by the current coaches and management in the last two drafts looked like the contributors they were forecast to be. McCarthy and fellow second-year linebacker Akeem Ayers each intercepted passes (McCarthy’s came courtesy of a deflection by Ayers), and rookie linebacker Zach Brown added one of his own. Rookie wide receiver Kendall Wright scored the game’s first touchdown, and Locker, although not exactly accurate (he completed nine of 21 throws) looked poised and confident, made meaningful plays and avoided any costly mistakes despite more than a month on the bench with a beat up shoulder.
If this was the first you had seen of this bunch, you would be impressed.
Of course, everyone had seen nothing of the sort through the previous nine games.
Those who have their doubts still can point to the seven opponents that scored 30 points or more and the four losses by margins of at least three touchdowns.
Those who think Johnson was not worth the trouble or the money following his 2011 training camp holdout still have the four meek performances in the first five weeks. In those games he averaged fewer than two yards per carry and did not score a touchdown.
Those who see this as a plucky bunch that will battle to the finish – if given the opportunity, of course – can look to the fact that the first three victories were by three points or fewer, including one in overtime.
Those who believe the Titans are better off with Matt Hasselbeck at quarterback can point to the fact that the only back-to-back victories this season came with the veteran under center.
In short, it is tough to know exactly what to think after Sunday because that performance was as unexpected as it was exemplary.
Then again, maybe it’s not. In 10 games (four wins, six losses) the Titans have done nothing to change anyone’s opinion of them. Unless of course you reassess your thoughts each week based on the result, in which case you’re probably just dizzy at this point from the extreme swings.
So think what you will. There’s ample evidence to support your stance.
At the very least, this latest bit of evidence of what the Titans are – or at least could be – will give the next opponent, the Jacksonville Jaguars, plenty to think about over the next two weeks.