The 2009 Tennessee Titans: What a Long, Strange Trip
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."
Earlier today, Titans running back Chris Johnson ran away (sorry) with the Associated Press Offensive Player of the Year award.
Earlier in the month, however, he didn't even come close to getting the MVP, even after breaking records and keeping his team competitive when they were woeful.
That's not say he should have won it; Tennessee's ho-hum win total would have prevented such a thing from happening. But to not even be in the running seems a bit odd.
This contradiction is perhaps the perfect exclamation point on Tennessee's surreal season.
Most folks in Nashville are feeling some semblance of positivity right now, which might seem a bit strange, all things considered.
Of course, that's not to say that they view this year as being a success, either, at least not in the traditional, Lombardi Trophy-toting one.
But after a hugely shocking and disappointing 0-6 start—in a year where they were deemed Super Bowl contenders, no less—they managed to fight and claw their way back, not only into respectability, but into playoff contention.
So, is this a good thing or a bad thing?
Should Titans fans be happy that their team rose out of the abyss? Or should they be bummed that Tennessee had to dig themselves out of a hole in the first place?
The argument here is for the former. As another writer so cleverly pointed out on the Bleacher Report team site earlier this season, the perfect polar opposite comparison is the Denver Broncos.
As most of you know, they started out 6-0, shocking the NFL. The Titans also shocked the league, but in a far more dubious fashion, racking up the exact opposite record.
However, things turned around for both squads. In Denver, the Broncos collapsed into the dysfunctional team that everyone initially thought they would be.
Tennessee, on the other hand, bounced back with tenacity and determination, finally playing like the team that everyone thought that they would be.
Now that the dust of the regular season has settled for the non-playoff teams, who do you think feels better about their respective club?
Denver has an entire mess of problems to fix. The Titans merely need to draft for defense and continue their resurgent offensive ways.
You get the point.
So, what does all of this mean for next season? Well, in addition to filling their defensive holes, there's also the mercurial issue of free agency and a potentially non-capped season on the horizon.
In other words, season-to-season momentum is somewhat of a unicorn in this league. Just look at the 13-3 2008 Titans compared to the early, 0-6 2009 Titans, who had 20 of 22 starters returning.
But if the front office is savvy enough, then it shouldn't be too hard to build around the Vince Young/Chris Johnson nucleus.
After winning his Offensive Player of the Year award, Johnson mentioned that he has his sights set on Eric Dickerson's single season rushing record for next year.
It's scary to think that he feels that he is capable of producing even more. But, considering that he's only finishing up his second season and still has an upside, well, the sky's the limit.
Remember, he accomplished his heroics this year on an 8-8 team and defenses keyed on him with eight-man fronts.
So, if the front office—and good fortune—does their part, 2010 looks to render Mr. Dickens moot.
Only the best of times will do.
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