Vince Young and Chris Johnson might make the highlight reels, but the real reason behind the Tennessee Titans' recent win streak is the return of Pro Bowl CB Cortland Finnegan.
After sitting out four games with a hamstring injury, Finnegan returned to the Titans on Nov. 1, helping lead the defense to its most dominant performance since Week One.
Last Sunday, he finished the game with eight tackles and an interception returned for a touchdown, leading the team to a 34-27 win over San Francisco.
Finnegan's stats tell part of the story, but it's his presence on the field that completes the picture.
During his absence, Tennessee gave up 151 points in a four-game span. Without Finnegan, Tennessee lost to Jacksonville 37-17. With Finnegan, Tennessee beat Jacksonville 30-13.
Is he really that important? He just might be.
Those numbers would have been even worse if the games had not already been decided by the midway point of the third quarter.
Of course, Finnegan wasn't the only missing piece in the defense. The Titans' other starting CB, Nick Harper, is out with a broken forearm. Starting defensive back Vincent Fuller has been out with a forearm injury as well.
Without those three players, the Titans have been gashed by opposing offenses.
But Finnegan is the Pro Bowl player, the leader in the secondary. With him out, the secondary was an easy target for opposing teams. With him back, the Titans are playing better football, both on defense and even on offense.
Simply being on the field, Finnegan is helping the team.
With him out, the defensive line was helpless against quick passes. Linebackers spent most of their time watching opposing wide receivers streak down the field.
Offensively, the Titans can be more conservative now. No longer facing huge deficits early in a game, Johnson can establish the running game. Young isn't forced to take shots down the field.
Everyone is better now that Finnegan is back on the field.
The praise goes to players like Young and Johnson, but it's players like Finnegan who are setting them up for success.
A defense is like a recipe. Take out one critical piece and the whole meal goes bad.
With Finnegan back, the Titans are starting to resemble a capable football team. There are still plenty of questions, and the Titans will probably still finish with a pretty dismal regular season record, but Finnegan is helping restore confidence for next season.
His return proves that this is not a bad team. It's not a team in need of a new coach or a new philosophy.
In fact, with all the pieces in place, it's a very good team, one that can and should be successful in 2010.