Week Two of the 2010 NFL season threw up a lot of surprises. Miami dropped Minnesota. The Cowboys are 0-2. Mark Sanchez had a 70 percent completion against the Patriots.
But for Titans fans, none of these came close to matching the shock of seeing Vince Young benched for Kerry Collins in the second half of a game the T's were losing by 10 points against one of the league's best defenses. Young had a bad game, with three giveaways, but Jeff Fisher's decision to yank Young for a 37-year-old who mustered a disastrous 0-6 start a year ago (which pretty much derailed Tennessee's entire season) was as shocking as it was disappointing as it was frustrating. Here's five reasons why.
After the horror show of the 2008 season, Vince Young was due a confidence boost. Coming back into the starter's role after a horrible 0-6 start last year, VY led the Titans on an 8-2 run that might have landed them a spot in the playoffs had the Chargers not mauled them on Christmas Day.
Young is not, despite what many say, a prima donna. After his torrid 2008 campaign, he worked as hard as any Titan in the last two offseasons to get back on track mentally as well as physically. Earning the starting gig this season will have done wonders for Young's confidence, and it showed in Week One as he led the NFL in passer rating.
However, Fisher's decision undermines this confidence horribly. Young was having a bad game, no two ways about it, but this Steelers defense (when Troy Polamalu is healthy) is a nightmare for even the most seasoned signal-caller. The Titans' O-line had huge trouble with Dick LeBeau's blitz schemes and Young was feeling the heat from the first snap. Unfortunately, he'd soon feel it off the field too.
VY has earned some leeway. He led the miraculous 99-yard drive to beat the Cardinals last year and had a huge hand in getting CJ2K his nickname, in addition to his impressive career win-loss record (27-14).
Young is going to be looking over his shoulder the rest of the year, thinking about how one bad day at the office could lead to benching. For a player who's gone through many tribulations, made massive strides in the last two years, and is finally looking like becoming a good NFL quarterback, that simply isn't fair.
How can any team succeed without a QB they know will be there every play if he's healthy? Teams with unsteady QB situations in the last few years—Oakland, Cleveland, Buffalo—have been bad. Really bad. If Young is "still the starter" as Jeff Fisher continues to say, why does he feel the need to pull him out of a winnable situation? Many of the Titans' squad came to Young after the second INT and gave him a lift, showing that they have faith in him and want him to succeed.
Sure, Young had a few despondent moments, but that's normal for any player having a bad day. There was no sign of the pouting of yesteryear, and VY stood on the sideline in the game's final moments, helmet on, clearly showing he wanted to get back in the game.
This is not a sign of a QB who is willing to quit.
NFL players are judged not by how they fall but by how they pick themselves up, and Young showed Sunday he was willing to go all 12 rounds, but Fisher chose to pull him.
Fisher's postgame conference was all his usual bluster about "no QB controversy" etc., but the moment you voluntarily switch QBs in a game you create a controversy, and any coach who's been in the league as long as Jeff Fisher surely knows this. He wanted Collins to come in and win that game for him, bringing us to...
Jeff Fisher has never been a Vince Young guy. It's been known in Tennessee since draft day 2006 that Fisher wanted to draft Matt Leinart, and owner Bud Adams stepped in and picked Texas star Vince Young at No. 3 instead (bullet: dodged). Does this linger in Fisher's mind? It seems likely that it does.
Young was never Fisher's pick, and since, he's never seemed to be fully behind the QB. Case in point: the 2009 season, where it took an 0-6 record, Bud Adams' intervention and most of the 59-0 humiliation in the snow in New England before Young sniffed the field. Now granted, Young's terrible 2008 season bought Fisher some time, but the highs of that 13-3 season were long gone and a change was definitely needed under center. Yet it took a demolition by the Patriots to force Fisher's hand.
The result was a fantastic run to end the year, 2,000 yards for Chris Johnson and a near-playoff berth. Young should be entrenched as the starter, but whereas Collins stayed under center through an historically bad start, one bad game is seemingly enough to send VY to the pine.
It's an awful double standard to set, especially at the game's most important position, and shows that Fisher, despite everything, still regrets not getting a pocket passer in the 2006 draft, and this frustration is being taken out on No.10.
Here's where many pro-Collins Titan fans will make the argument that Collins led the Titans on a touchdown drive and completed 17 passes. This, and Fisher's that the team needed "a spark," is a fallow argument.
Pittsburgh blitzed the Titans all day long until the final quarter. Collins was playing against a very soft "prevent" defense which allows for easy completions underneath, and most of his throws could've been made by a high school QB. He was also given 25 pass attempts in his limited time, compared with Young's 10 through the rest of the game. Fisher continued to run it with Young at QB even though the Steelers were bottling up CJ2K like no other team has done in quite some time. Not only was this an unfair vote of no confidence in Young's passing ability (see point one), but also tactically naïve.
The Titans did, in fact, need a spark. But Collins' spark died after the first six games of 2009, and Young proved against Arizona what he can do in the clutch when he has the chance. Young's dual-threat ability can definitely give your team a spark off the bench, an aging, immobile pocket passer cannot. Collins also turned the ball over twice in far less time that Young turned it over three times, but at no point was Fisher going to pull the former out of the game (see point three).
The Titans' brief comeback had little to do with Collins, and far more to do with Pittsburgh softening up their defensive scheme in a game they were confident of winning. Young could have led the Titans on a drive against such a slack D, no question, but Fisher's decision meant that he wasn't given the chance.
The fifth, and most damning, of these reasons is where it leaves Tennessee going forward. Young is likely going to be afraid for his job. Without Young playing well, the Titans are an ordinary team. Young's ability with ball in hand is unmatched by any QB in this league apart from Mike Vick, and thus Chris Johnson is at his best with VY in the game.
The risk Jeff Fisher ran with this switch skyrocketed this game's importance. If Young stays in the game, it was a bad loss against a top defense and nothing more. Now, it could derail the entire year. I (and many other Titan fans) will pray that Young can bounce back yet again and prove Fisher's decision wrong. If he can't, the Titans' playoff hopes fade in less time than MC Hammer's trousers were in vogue.
Like it or not, Vince Young is Tennessee's best QB and a born leader in the locker-room and on the field.
With this swap, Fisher has unnecessarily jeopardised the 2010 season for Tennessee. And also raised the question: he's a good head coach, but is he still the right coach for the Tennessee Titans? It's a question that the next 14 games will help us answer.