For six weeks, the Tennessee Titans had been going backwards.
On Sunday, they went back to doing the things that had made them successful in seasons past, leading to a 30-13 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars and finally ending a losing streak that had reached eight games dating to the end of last season.
While all the attention was on Vince Young’s return at quarterback, running back Chris Johnson stole the show with a new franchise record 228 yards rushing in helping the Titans to finally crack the win column in 2009 and also to help erase a bit of the stench of a record 59-0 loss at New England just before the bye.
The changes came from the top, where owner Bud Adams, displeased with the direction and disarray, stepped in and urged that the Titans make the switch back to Young at quarterback.
“We just said looking at that game, we’re gonna have to make some changes some place,” Adams said. We started the season with 21 of our 22 starters from last year. We should have been in the Super Bowl last year. …
“I thought we had the team to be there and I thought this year we would be going there. But the way it started out, it just wasn’t going that way. And it was just something I had to get involved in, not that I can make the decision of what is right, but we had to turn something around because it was not going very good.”
What the Titans did, in addition to going back to Young, who turned in a solid effort going 15 of 18 for 125 yards and a TD, was to get back to Titans football. They ran the ball for 307 yards and got two long TDs from Johnson of 52 and 89 yards, while controlling the clock for 39:43 and forcing a pair of turnovers on defense.
When it was over, the Titans, who had endured tumultuous times since the debacle in New England, felt as if they had somewhat righted their struggling situation.
“It’s a great accomplishment, but we know this is not the end,” said receiver Nate Washington, who was on the receiving end of Young’s 6-yard TD pass. “This is something we need to build off of. We were a struggling football team looking for our first win, but now we’re a team with our first win looking to complete the rest of the season.”
For Young, he was happy to play a supporting role in the victory.
“Before the game, I told our offensive line to take care of everything up front and the skill guys behind them to make lays when it is time to make plays, and that is what we did,” Young said.
Mission accomplished, thanks in large part to Johnson’s heroics. The second-year running back from East Carolina now has 824 yards rushing, and shredded the franchise single-game rushing record of 216 yards previously held by Eddie George and Billy Cannon.
“Coming into the week, we knew we could run the ball, because the last time we played them we were able to have some success running the ball,” Johnson said.
It added up to 430 yards of total offense for the Titans, who also turned up the intensity a notch or two on defense, save for a pair of long touchdown runs by Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew of 80 yards in the second quarter and 79 yards on the first play of the season half following the second-half kickoff.
“Today we played together as a team. We had some adversity and we fought through it,” safety Chris Hope said, referring to Jones-Drew’s two long runs.
The Titans dominated most of the first half, getting a field goal on their opening possession for a 3-0 first-quarter lead on Rob Bironas’ 48-yard field goal.
The Titans struck again with Young running and passing them downfield in the second quarter, capping an eight-play, 54-yard march with his 6-yard touchdown to Washington on second-and-goal. It was the Titans’ first touchdown in a game since the last time they faced Jacksonville in a 37-17 loss back on Oct. 4.
The Titans tacked on a second Bironas field goal after Rod Hood intercepted David Garrard, setting up a 25-yard kick for a 13-0 lead. That was before Jones-Drew gashed the Titans for the 80-yard touchdown run on the first play of the ensuing possession to cut the lead to 13-7 by halftime.
Jones-Drew duplicated that feat to start the second half with a 79-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 13-all. The Titans remained tied when Michael Griffin blocked Josh Scobee’s extra point.
Thus far in 2009, when adversity came the Titans’ way, they had folded. However, Sunday was different. Whoever had order the changed, from Adams on down to the coaches and players, for one game at least, it worked for Tennessee.
“We needed to fix a lot of things, fix our attitude, fix the way we feel about ourselves. I think we’ve got some confidence now, and hopefully we’ll keep things rolling,” said defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, who recorded his first sack of the season.
And in a season that had appeared hopeless, perhaps the biggest thing that changed was the Titans’ outlook.
“We have a lot of football left. We have nine games left,” linebacker Keith Bulluck said. “I think that teams that are in playoff contention and fighting for those playoff positions, we’re a team that teams won’t want to see in the future, if we continue to take steps forward.”