In the time the Tennessee Titans have played in Middle Tennessee it is likely the franchise has not seen more dominant individual performances than those crafted by Albert Haynesworth in 2008 and Chris Johnson the following year.
Chances that both revisit such elite play when they meet Sunday are minimal. After all, their respective tasks are at odds with one another.
Johnson is a record-setting running back who has topped 100 yards just twice this season and easily is on pace for the poorest statistical season of his career. Haynesworth is a defensive tackle playing for his third team in two seasons yet possesses an uncanny athleticism and the ability to disrupt and offense, particularly when it tries to run.
Haynesworth, now a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, makes his second visit as an opposing player to LP Field this Sunday (noon, Fox).
“It will be a pretty good contest playing against an old friend of mine,” Johnson said Wednesday. “He was here when I first got here and I had a lot of good times with him and things like that. So it’s always good pairing up against a friend.”
Haynesworth has not had much fun since he left Tennessee following the 2008 season, which arguably was his best.
He cashed in as a free agent with a record-setting contract from the Washington Redskins in 2009 but lasted just two years there. He ws traded to New England prior to this season, but the Patriots waived him after six games, and the Buccaneers claimed him.
“The two prior teams that I went to the scheme was a lot different, even though you can say, ‘Oh, you are still playing football,’” Haynesworth said. “When I’m getting off the ball and disrupting and creating havoc … with Washington and the Patriots it wasn’t really about that.
“I struggled to try to learn a different way to play and it takes a lot of time to be good at it and completely learn a different way how to play.”
His last season with the Titans the 2002 first-round pick made 75 tackles and eight and half sacks as a prelude to free agency. Those topped his numbers (69 tackles, six sacks) of the previous season.
He made the Pro Bowl both years.
“Albert is a guy … when he’s motivated to do something, he can really be destructive,” Titans fullback Ahmard Hall said. “I’ve seen him at his best … and he was motivated to be one of the highest-paid guys in the league. I saw [from him] probably the two best seasons I’ve seen on defense from one person.”
Johnson, of course, elevated the standard of performance for all running backs in 2009 when he set a record for total yards and became the first player in NFL history with more than 2,000 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving in the same season.
He then did the same for the pay scale at that position following his holdout that caused him to miss all of training camp and the preseason this year.
Currently he is averaging just over 50 yards per game and is on pace for 814.
“He is part of that but unfortunately it’s not just him,” coach Mike Munchak said. “Even when he ran for 2,000 yards, it wasn’t all Chris doing those things. It was the line, it was the play calling, it was all of those things and so now that we are struggling, none of us are playing like we should or any of us are playing like we did two years ago or even last year consistently enough.”
The common thread, of course, other than the one season they spent as teammates is that neither has played up to expectations since they signed significant contracts.
“Certain guys have a certain stretch of your career where you play your best football of your life and I think [Haynesworth] was playing the best football of his life when he was here,” Munchak said. “There was no one better than him the year before he left us as far as the disruption he created in the middle or even when we used to put him over the tackle. He caved the pocket in like no one else can.”
• Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said in a conference call with Tampa Bay media that he expected to start Sunday. He speaks with local media only on Thursday’s leading up to games.
Later Wednesday, he practiced more than was expected after he was knocked out of Sunday’s game at Atlanta with an elbow injury.
“He has some soreness but not like we thought he may have,” Munchak said. “He practiced probably more than he has on a few other Wednesdays, so it looks good for him to play on Sunday.”