There were seven minutes, 10 seconds to go when linebacker Stephen Tulloch decided it was time to strut. He forced a punt with a huge hit on Pittsburgh Steelers’ tight end Heath Miller and spread his arms wide toward the stands on the west side of LP Field in order to soak in the admiration.
Directly in front of the third-year linebacker, on the Tennessee Titans’ sideline stood quarterback Vince Young. It was there that Young had watched most of the previous seven-plus minutes of play, and it was there that he watched nearly all of the remaining action, hands – more often than not – on his hips, defiant yet dismayed.
Such was the unbalanced nature of the Titans’ performance Sunday in a 19-11 loss that evened their record at 1-1 before a sellout crowd, many of whom headed for the exits early.
The defense deserved all manner of praise for having held the Steelers to field goal after field goal after field goal after the offense had committed turnover after turnover after turnover. Looking for “a spark,” coach Jeff Fisher sent word to Young at the start of the fourth quarter to remain on the sideline and let veteran Kerry Collins go at it.
“(Fisher) didn’t tell me at all,” Young said. “He’s the head coach. He makes his decisions.
“… Definitely put this one on me. I definitely did make some mistakes turning the ball over. They did some things I ain’t seen before.”
The Titans gave it up seven times with three interceptions and four fumbles (believe it or not, they also recovered three of their own fumbles), but the Steelers (2-0) managed just four field goals as a result and had a total of 127 yards of offense for the contest. Their lone touchdown came on the game’s opening kickoff.
Not all of the giveaways were Young’s fault either.
He did throw the first of his two interceptions in the end zone when the Titans had a chance to take the lead with just under six minutes to play in the first quarter.
By that time, though, Marc Mariani already had fumbled the first kickoff he received. And before Collins drove the offense 88 yards for Tennessee’s only touchdown and reduced the difference to a single score with less than a minute to play, he threw one interception and lost a fumble as he managed just one first down on his first three possessions.
“Seven turnovers … come on,” Fisher said. “To commit seven turnovers and still have a remote chance at the end?
“I made a decision to get a spark and go with Kerry. Vince is still our starter. He will start next week against the Giants – there is no quarterback controversy. I just needed to make that decision. I thought it was the best decision for the team. I’m not going to get into the details. I just needed to make a change.”
The only time during the fourth quarter Young moved off his spot near the 40-yard line was when Collins finally got the offense moving. Once the Titans crossed midfield on their way to Nate Washington’s touchdown catch with 58 seconds to go, he retreated to the other end of the bench. There he once again stood alone, hands on hips.
That made him easy for teammates to find. Many of them did throughout the fourth quarter and offered pats on the back or shoulder rather than pointed fingers.
“I’m a veteran on the team, all I can do is support him,” safety Chris Hope said. “I never played quarterback. I can’t imagine playing against a (Steelers’ defensive coordinator) Dick LeBeau defense and all the different looks they give you or to feel when (Young) went through (Sunday).”
In addition to the two interceptions, Young also lost a fumble. He was under center for 10 possessions, half of which resulted in a net of zero or lost yards, and just five first downs.
It was dramatic a turnaround from his Week 1 performance in a victory against Oakland (he entered this week as the NFL’s leader in passer rating), but it also was a big change from the last time he got pulled – Sept. 7, 2007 when frustration over his play, the fans’ reaction to it and a knee injury prompted Fisher to stay with Collins for the rest of that season and all of the one that followed.
This time the change was temporary because so were Young’s feelings about the game.
“Back in the day I probably couldn’t (get over it),” Young said. “But right now, I’m mature about the situation. Back in the day, you probably wouldn’t see me talking to (the media) after a loss, but … I understand that these things happen.
“I put that one on me – (two) interceptions and a fumble – but at the same time move on.”