It was 2 minutes, 37 seconds that finally transformed a season — and possibly a player.
When the Tennessee Titans got the ball for the final time on Nov. 29 against the Arizona Cardinals — at their own 1-yard line, no less — they needed their quarterback to make plays. Down four points and 99 yards away, even record-setting running back Chris Johnson couldn’t make a difference.
Vince Young took the snap from center 18 times in those 157 seconds — and in the minds of many, he took a leap forward in his development as an NFL quarterback, driving his team to the game-winning touchdown: Kenny Britt’s leaping reception in the end zone as the final seconds ticked off the clock.
“It was the drive of the year for us — a 99-yard drive with 2:30 left and we converted three fourth-down passes,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “It was a great drive, and [Young] spread the ball all around. He even got tackled for no gain and a sack … [but] we had plenty of time and got it done.”
There will be no repeat performance when the Cardinals make their return to LP Field on Monday, Aug. 23. Given that it is the second preseason game for both franchises, the starters will see limited duty and will rest comfortably on the sidelines as the final seconds tick away.
But the Titans would like to see a lot more of the poise and ability that Young — and others — showed on that drive, this fall and in the years to come.
Fisher has said often in recent weeks that he believes Young currently has a better collection of players at the skill positions — based on ability and experience — surrounding him than in any of his previous four seasons. Young found many of them on that drive.
All 18 plays were designed passes, and 16 turned out that way. Young scrambled for six yards on one and was sacked for the loss of a yard on the other, but when he did throw, he targeted five different players, including two rookies — Britt and tight end Jared Cook — and one second-year player — Lavelle Hawkins — who up to that point had nine career receptions. He also hit a free agent in his first year with the team in wide receiver Nate Washngton.
Nine of Young’s throws were complete, three to Britt and two each to Hawkins, Cook and tight end Bo Scaife.
“That was big for the confidence of the team, the confidence of the offense, also the confidence of the young guys to go out there and make plays,” veteran wide receiver Justin Gage said. “… It gave [Young] a sense of being poised, of taking control of the team and of finishing games.
“It’s what he did all of his career in college and he did it early in his career in the league. Now he’s back to that.”
Those nine completions and 99 passing yards contributed to Young’s career-highs of 27 and 387, respectively, in that contest. In the weeks that followed, he set personal bests for touchdown passes in a game (three, Dec. 20 vs. Miami) and longest rush (44 yards, Dec. 13 vs. St. Louis). He also threw more touchdown passes (six) than interceptions (five) over the remainder of the regular season.
Looking back now, there’s probably no other moment or drive or game that offers more reasons to look forward to the 2010 season.
“[We have] a lot of speed, a lot of determination; guys are hungry,” Young said. “… Nothing against our opponents, we respect our opponents, but it’s all about us. If we go out there and take care of our responsibility … we have so much talent and weapons on offense that we can be that type of explosive offense.”
Maybe even all the time, and not just when time is of the essence.