But certainly the new starting quarterback helped changed the vibe Sunday for a team desperate for an injection of something different and fresh.
Team owner Bud Adams, who famously proclaimed “VY is my guy” when the team drafted Young in 2006, beamed in the locker room after the game while dodging a question about whether he was responsible for the swap of Young for former starter Kerry Collins. (He was.)
“He kind of proved today he can do it,” Adams said.
Teammates pointed to the boost Young provided against the Jaguars (3-4).
“He managed the game well,” guard Jake Scott said. “He did a great job, he was poised and collected and he made the plays when he had to and when the plays weren’t there to make he just got rid of the ball or scrambled and got down.”
Said nickelback Vincent Fuller: “He brought a new energy back there in the backfield. He played fast, he played to his strengths. He’s a mobile quarterback who can get to different places in the pocket and he always adds that extra threat.”
Players and a scout I prodded said things were not simplified or stripped down, but they seemed that way. I felt like Young’s insertion into the lineup necessitated a simplicity that was good for a team that needed to get back to basics.
It also seemed like on some key throws, Young’s targets found more space than they had in previous weeks for Collins.
But when I threw that idea at Jaguars linebacker Justin Durant after the game, wondering if linebackers were possibly accounting for Young’s mobility, he looked at me quizzically and asked: “Did they throw the ball?”
It was a fair question. Playing from behind, Collins threw for 284 yards in the 20-point Jaguars’ victory on Oct. 4. Though Young threw only 18 times, he hit on 15. Though none of those connections were longer than 18 yards, there were no turnovers. There was a nice touchdown connection with Nate Washington on a well-thrown 6-yard fade.
Young felt good about what he did. He got a hug and a pat on the head from offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger in the game’s final minutes and another chat as they walked off the field.
“He pretty much saw me grow up a little bit tonight,” Young said. “He sees me making the right throws and the right reads, calling the plays in the huddle and getting the guys out of the huddle on time for the play clock and things like that. He basically has seen me grow up a little bit and he wanted to show his love to me."
Other keys to the result for Tennessee:
Offensive line play: Young wasn’t sacked and was able to turn 12 rushes into 30 yards. The run blocking matched the protection, and we’ll get to Chris Johnson’s record day in a minute.
New blood: Young was in the lineup, cornerback Cortland Finnegan was back from a hamstring injury and Fuller was back from a broken arm. But three relative newcomers -- defensive back/ punt returner Kevin Kaesviharn, cornerback Rod Hood and punter Brett Kern all made nice contributions.
Kaesvihard fielded one punt horribly, backtracking after a bounce, but handled four others reliably, no small feat for this team this year. Hood had an interception as the new fill in for the injured Nick Harper. Kern drew praise from Fuller, who sheepishly admitted he didn’t remember the new guy's name.
A return to formula: This year’s Titans expected to be like last year’s -- a run-driven offense spurred by a big-play defense. The defense got shredded on touchdown runs of 80- and 79-yards by Maurice Jones-Drew on two clinics of how not to tackle. But otherwise it found plays and prevented points. The Titans sacked David Garrard four times and recorded interceptions by Hood and Finnegan. The special teams contributed a blocked extra point from Michael Griffin. The Titans had at least two turnovers in each loss and none in their first victory.
CJ: When the defense is giving up huge touchdowns runs, it’s rare a team simply can cancel them out. That’s what Johnson did with 52- and 89-yard touchdown runs and a franchise record 228 rushing yards.
“I just know they were running it, whatever they wanted to, however they wanted to,” Durant said. “We just didn’t have an answer for them. …Those are plays that we’ve got to make.”
Put together the four long touchdowns and you have the first game in NFL history with four rushing touchdowns of more than 50 yards.
A little luck: The Jags' Derek Cox floated under a bad Young pass in the game early in the first quarter on the left side of the end zone. It was practically a fair-catch situation. But he booted it. “Who knows what kind of momentum that would have gave the team,” Cox said. “I had to speed up a little bit to get to it, I didn’t look the ball in, I was kind of worried about my feet being in because I felt myself drifting to the sideline.”
On Hood’s interception, Garrard’s intended target, Torry Holt, bumped into umpire Rich Hall and fell down.
The Titans surely felt due for something like that to go their way.
“This is the team I’d hoped for all year,” Jeff Fisher said. “We’re going to going to maintain this. I think we have a chance to maintain this.”