Nashville, Tenn—Just when you think you have everything figured out, someone grabs the snow globe and shakes things up.
The Tennessee Titans made it clear that Kerry Collins was their starter, awarding him a two-year, $15 million contract in the offseason.
Vince Young spent the offseason extricating his foot from his mouth time and again, at one point as much as telling the Titans that they either played him or traded him.
Veteran Justin Gage was joined at the top of the wide receiver depth chart by Super Bowl wide receiver Nate Washington, late of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"Smash and Dash," or "Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside," or whatever cute little moniker they are referred to, aka Chris Johnson and LenDale White, looked entrenched at the top spots in the offensive backfield.
In short, offensively the Titans' offense were poised and ready to make everyone forget the disastrous end to their '08 season.
Then the Tampa Bay Buccaneers came to town.
First there were the turnovers. Kerry Collins threw his first one early in the first quarter when he tried to hit Nate Washington in the end zone.
I'm not saying Nate gave up on the route, but lets just say he didn't exactly put up a fight for the ball.
Hard to do when you are tripping over your own feet.
Collins' second interception came on the first play of the second quarter, and one play later the Titans watched their opponents reach the end zone.
As the second quarter wound down, Craig Stevens was flagged for holding in the end zone on a Craig Hentrich punt attempt. Safety.
A result of not being able to control the ball is that you probably won't score much, which was problem two for the starters. As Kerry Collins surrendered the reins to Vince Young, the Titans had managed to put three points on the board.
Things didn't appear to get much better with Young at the helm. In fact, he made one of the most bone-headed, rookie-esque moves I have seen in a long time.
The last time I saw it, I was on the sidelines coaching kids who were quite a bit smaller than me.
After about the fourth or fifth bad snap from center Leroy Harris—which understandably had to have gotten on his last nerve—Young grabbed the bouncing baby ball and flung it over his shoulder to a completely unsuspecting LenDale White, who proceeded to miss the ball, chase it towards the sidelines and give it a swift soccer kick out of bounds.
Which, of course, is a penalty. Which didn't really matter, because it was enforced from the previous spot. But that's not the point.
The point is, with that play VY was on his way to cementing my belief that he just is not quite ready for prime time.
(fade to picture of Ed Hochuli looking stern as he miffs another call...)
Just prior to halftime, Ed Hochuli demonstrated again why he needs to either go back through referee training, or better yet, retire.
I've always liked Ed Hochuli. I thought he was one of the best in the game. But even the best fade over time. Ask Brett Favre if you don't believe me.
I know they keep coming up with new rules to "protect" the quarterback. Which is actually kind of funny, because as quarterbacks continue to get bigger, faster, and stronger, eventually they are going to have to go the other way and make rules to protect linebackers.
This years new rule apparently says that you cannot finish a tackle on a quarterback, lest you give him a boo-boo.
While running the two-minute drill, Bucanneers quarterback Bryon Leftwich was being pressured—hard—by Titans defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson. Leftwich scrambled a bit, turned to his left, jumped in the air, and threw an incomplete pass to Brian Clark.
Apparently catching a quarterback in mid-air and falling to the gound on top of him, as the laws of physics seem to dictate, is unnecessary roughness.
This call was bad even in real time. Vickerson did nothing malicious; he simply lunged at Leftwich, who left the ground all by himself, caught him in mid tackling technique, and bore him to the ground.
Leftwich didn't appear any worse the wear for it, nobody appeared to be upset that their quarterback had been hit illegally; in short, it was a football play in a football game.
Not, as Ed Hochuli surmised, a defensive player picking a quarterback up and stuffing him in the ground.
As I said, either a) Ed needs to go back to school; b) Ed needs to retire; or c) Ed has an unhealthy affinity towards quarterbacks, and doesn't want to see them get their uniforms dirty.
Either way, the call was bad, and even Jeff Fisher, who rather artfully dodged questions about it at halftime, knew it.
(fade back to Vince Young, looking determined under center)
The Titans entered halftime down 12-6, and things did not look well in the forgetting last year department.
Something happened early in the third quarter, though.
Vince Young was flushed from the pocket early, and scrambled to his left for a nine yard gain. He pulled up lame on the sidelines, and you could hear the intake of breath from the crowd. Here we go again; Vince is hurt, and he's fixing to take himself out.
It appears Mr. Young was listening all summer after all.
VY flexed his leg, trotted painfully on the field, and returned to center.
Five plays later, with what can be called nothing less than excellent vision, he hit rookie wide receiver Kenny Britt downfield, wide the heck open, for the Titans' first touchdown of the game.
Rookies and backups one, veterans zero.
On the Titans next possession, Young marched the team downfield again, until running back Jevon Ringer utilized some excellent downfield vision to break free from the backfield and rumble 36 yards for the Titans second touchdown.
Rookies and backups two, veterans zero.
Three plays into Tampa's next possession, Ryan Mouton read the play perfectly, jumped the pass from Josh Freeman, picked it clean out of the air, and returned it 29 yards for a touchdown—the Titans' third.
Rookies and backups three, veterans zero.
I know it's a preseason game, and I usually don't put much stock in them.
But this game was different, because there usually isn't as stark a difference in the performances of the two squads. On Saturday, Tennessee's veteran starters looked sluggish. they weren't crisp on their routes, their effort seemed lackluster, and they did not appear to feel they needed to perform to any standard.
The rookies and backups rather obviously saw things differently. They put on a performance that should have come from the starting squad. Some of them are fighting for a roster spot, and it showed.
But what also showed was that they were there to serve notice to the veterans: we are here, we can play, and if you aren't careful, it will be YOU who watch us take the Titans all the way this year.
As long as Ed Hochuli isn't on the Super Bowl squad, it should be a good game.