Three weeks ago, it would have been crazy to suggest that a player on the Tennessee Titans could be the league’s most valuable player. But Titans running back Chris Johnson is putting up MVP numbers, and Tennessee is on a three-game winning streak.
On Sunday against the Buffalo Bills, Johnson carried 26 times for 132 yards and two touchdowns. He added nine catches for 100 yards through the air.
Johnson said after the game that he thinks he’s made a big statement that he’s the best running back in football — but he’d prefer if others would say it for him.
“I’ve got great confidence so I would say I’m the best back in the league,” Johnson said. “But that’s not my situation to argue about that. I have to go out on the field and prove that and let other people say who’s the best back.”
With 1,091 yards through nine games, Johnson is the league’s leading rusher, ahead of the Vikings’ Adrian Peterson by nearly 200 yards. With Johnson on pace to rush for 1,940 yards this season and averaging a gaudy 6.4 yards a carry, just about everyone will give Johnson his wish and say he’s the best back.
He’s probably not the league MVP — Drew Brees and Peyton Manning would have something to say about that — but Johnson and Vince Young are combining to make the Titans relevant again.
Young wasn’t spectacular passing against the Bills, and he relied in large part on Johnson and other receivers making big runs after the catch. But he was efficient, completing 17 of 25 passes for 210 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. He also added 29 rushing yards on five carries.
The bottom line is this: The Titans were 0-6 with Kerry Collins starting at quarterback and are now 3-0 with Young at the helm.
The decision to start Young over Collins was widely viewed as a decision ordered — or at least strongly suggested — by Titans owner Bud Adams. Most of the time, an owner who thinks he knows more than his coach is dead wrong, but in this case the big question is why Titans coach Jeff Fisher needed any pressure to go to Young, who has clearly provided the Titans with a much-needed spark.
Adams is clearly fired up by the way his team has played with his favored quarterback — so fired up that he flipped a double-bird at the Bills’ sideline on Sunday.
For everything that Johnson and Young did on Sunday, the Bills were very much in the game most of the way, and they had a real chance to win even after Johnson’s second touchdown broke a 17-17 tie early in the fourth quarter. It only turned into a blowout in the final minutes, when Buffalo decided to throw the game away.
With less than three minutes to play and the Bills trying to mount a comeback, Bills quarterback Trent Edwards threw an interception that Vincent Fuller returned 26-yard for a game sealing touchdown. For good measure, Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick then came in and threw another interception, this one returned 31 yards for a score by Roderick Hood.
The Bills’ best pass of the game was actually thrown by a running back, Fred Jackson, who hit Lee Evans for a 27-yard touchdown on a trick play. But when a running back looks like a better passer than either quarterback, that’s a problem, and Edwards said after the game that he fully understands he’s going to get a whole lot of criticism for his play.
“That’s the situation we’re in right now,” Edwards said. “We’re 3-6 and we’re not winning football games. The first person you got to look at is the quarterback. I’m coming back from an injury. It’s tough to say right now, just in terms of not watching the film. . . . So it’s tough.”
It’ll be tough watching the Bills the rest of the season — unless you’re watching because you want to see Terrell Owens blow up. On Sunday, T.O. had three catches for 85 yards, but he still appeared to be angry on the sidelines at one point in the game, and he glared at someone whose cell phone rang at his post-game press conference.
It may just be a matter of time before T.O. becomes T.O. again.
But even though the Titans aren’t playoff contenders, either, it won’t be tough watching them the rest of the year. As long as they have Johnson in the backfield, the Titans have the most exciting player in football.
And as long as Bud Adams strays periodically into the viewer of amateur videographers, well, that can be considered a bonus.