Kenny Britt had a chance to get the Tennessee Titans in position to perhaps take the lead against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday and dropped the ball.
Britt fumbled after getting up off the ground following a 51-yard reception from Vince Young, seemingly letting the Titans’ last best chance to defeat the Cardinals slip right through his hands with 4:37 to play.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, a former Tennessee State star, came up from behind and knocked the ball free from Britt’s grasp, and fellow cornerback Bryant McFadden recovered it, returning it to the Cardinals’ 30 yard line.
But when Britt got another chance, he atoned, and then some, going high into the air to catch Young’s 10-yard bullet for the game-winning score in the 20-17 victory as time expired.
“It was real important to me, especially to the team and everything. But as wide receivers, we have to have short memories. So that was in my mind right then at the time,” said Britt, who carried the ball off the field with him as he left the field.
Young dropped back on the final pass, then eluded the Arizona rush and fired the pass before crossing the line of scrimmage. Britt said it is something Titans receivers have to be aware of with Young running loose.
“We work on our scramble drills all week in practice, and when Vince starts to scramble around, you never know if he’s going to run it or if he’s going to throw it,” Britt said. “He’s going to stay alive and that’s what he did.”
By staying alive himself on the play and making the catch, Britt and the Titans stay alive in the playoff hunt with their fifth consecutive victory, with the improbable 99-yard drive capped by the rookie’s TD catch.
It was enough to even move owner Bud Adams to say the win was one of the most exciting in the franchise’s 50 years.
“In 50 years in this business, it’s the most exciting game I’ve ever seen,” Adams said. “Where you have as little time as we had and you receive the kick on the 1-yard line and win that game. It’s the greatest victory we’ve ever had in 50 years.”
No one was happier than Britt, who relished in his redemption.
“There’s really no words for it,” he said of the emotional victory.
The Cardinals were obviously dismayed by the play.
“We had guys coming from all angles,” safety Antrel Rolle said. “Britt is a tall guy, a former basketball player. It was just one of those plays, a 50-50 chance, and they came down with it.”
Chris Johnson had been in the spotlight for the entire time during the Titans’ current winning streak and with his assault on the record books.
But even Johnson, who did not have a single touch on the final drive, had to take a back seat on Sunday.
That didn’t mean he wasn’t productive. He still had 154 yards on just 17 carries, including breaking an 85-yard run in the third quarter that gave the Titans a 13-3 lead.
Johnson was actually caught by Rodgers-Cromartie just as he crossed the goal line, and the two, who worked out together in the off-season, jawed at each other a bit in the end zone.
“He just said that he almost caught me,” Johnson said, “And I told, ‘Yeah, but I slowed down.’”
There has been no slowing down Johnson, who now as 1,396 yards rushing this season to lead the NFL. He is now on pace for 2,031 yards, which would make him the sixth running back in NFL history to reach 2,000 yards.
Johnson is already in elite company on a number of fronts. He had his sixth consecutive game of at least 125 yards, joining Earl Campbell and Eric Dickerson as the only backs to do that. And he passed Jim Brown as the only player now in NFL history to average at least five yards per carry while rushing for 125 yards in six straight games.
The Titans secondary only got to Matt Leinart once with their pass rush, a three-yard sack by Kyle Vanden Bosch. But they got enough pressure and the secondary played well enough that Tennessee was able to hold the Cardinals’ star receivers in check.
Anquan Boldin led the Cardinals with five catches for 53 yards, while Larry Fitzgerald was held to four catches and 34 yards.
“They have four receivers over there that are going to catch the ball,” nickelback Vincent Fuller said. “There were no deep balls, and no seven routes, no nine routes. There were a couple of mistakes, but that’s going to happen.”
Cornerback Cortland Finnegan said the Titans’ game plan worked well.
“It was a great scheme, getting your hands on them and disrupting routes,” he said. “Our film study came out today, and it was just a real healthy thing to disrupt those guys and get them off the spot.”
Coach Jeff Fisher said one of the reasons that cornerback Rod Hood was not active was that he was not feeling well.
The other surprise inactive for the Titans was running back LenDale White, who was a healthy scratch, as Javon Ringer was the second running back.
Also, defensive end Jevon Kearse was active for the first time since leaving the Oct. 11 game with Indianapolis after finding out he was a healthy scratch.
“It was a great time to get back in the lineup. It felt good just to get back, period. Then what happened the last two minutes of the ballgame, it felt good to be a part of it on the sideline,” Kearse said.
Perhaps the Titans caught a break with Kurt Warner’s streak of 41 consecutive starts coming to an end. Being inactive means Warner, who suffered a concussion last week, still has not faced the Titans since Super Bowl XXXIV.
“I didn’t feel perfect, didn’t feel 100 percent,” said Warner, who practiced all week. “So we just came to the conclusion that it was just in the best interest of everybody at this time to be cautious.
The Titans’ winning drive might never have taken place, had Bo Scaife not been in the right place at the right time on the march.
A Young pass on first-and-10 from their own 17 was tipped into the air by Arizona’s Calais Campbell, and it appeared that it might be intercepted.
But a hustling Scaife plucked the ball out of the air and gained 19 yards to the 36-yard line.
“All of a sudden Bo came out of nowhere to make the catch. He saved us,” Young said.
Scaife said he wasn’t sure what was going on. He just knew he had to get the ball.
“I don’t even remember the play. I just saw the ball in the air. Better us than them,” Scaife said. “It’s one of those plays that they could haven gotten the interception and the game would have been over. But it bounced my way and I saw it, and I’m glad I came up with it.”
With Young throwing for 387 yards, Johnson rushing for 154 and Britt putting up 128 yards receiving, it marked the first time since Sept. 6, 1992 that the franchise had had a 300-yard passer, and 100-yard rusher and receiver in the same game.
In that game, Warren Moon had 332 yards passing, Lorenzo White finished with 100 yards on the ground and Haywood Jeffires had 117 yards in pass receptions.