Vince Young’s most severe punishment for breaking curfew was not sitting out Tennessee’s 14-6 loss to the Washington Redskins Saturday night. It was having to stand on the sidelines and watch the Titans’ lackluster preseason opener.
Young was held out of the game as a result of his being at home instead of at the team hotel on Friday night as required, but he will return to practice this afternoon with the rest of his teammates. Young left the locker room Saturday night and declined to speak with reporters despite efforts by team officials and his own public relations man to do so.
Titans coach Jeff Fisher addressed the situation only briefly in his postgame press conference.
“I will just say this — I made a decision earlier today to not allow Vince to play in the ballgame for violating a team rule, period, end of story,” Fisher said. “He will be back in the building Monday with his teammates practicing, and he’s our starting quarterback and we like him. He is going to be a good quarterback, and he’s going to play for us next week.”
Fisher spoke again Sunday about Young’s absence, and said it was done simply because it was a rules violation, not to send a message to the other players.
“[It’s] no different than had anybody else on the roster been disciplined. It was not about sending a message. It was about just enforcing the rules,” Fisher said.
Fisher said Young will play the same amount this week at New England that he would have had he played against Washington and that Young not working with some of his new receivers, like Eric Moulds, did not enter into his decision Saturday night.
“That didn’t factor into my decision. I imagine there are 55,000 people who are disappointed he didn’t play as well,” Fisher said
The Titans said they hope to not let the incident be a distraction, but rather will attempt to move forward.
“Anytime your star quarterback or whoever breaks a rule, it lets you know that no man on this team is above the team,” said receiver Eric Moulds, who had hoped to work with Young Saturday night. “That’s why they call it a football team and not an individual.
“I talked to Vince about it and I told him that we’ll come back Monday and we’ll go from there. He has a positive attitude about it and just wants to come back and play football. I just talked to him and told him to come back Monday ready to go, and he shook his head and said, ‘I’ll be ready.’”
The Titans offense appeared not to be ready without him.
As Young was reduced to spectator status, Kerry Collins and Tim Rattay guided a Titans’ offense that never found any sort of rhythm either on the ground or through the air.
The Titans managed just 84 yards on 34 carries, a 2.5-yards-per-carry average. The Titans had a paltry 117 yards total offense at halftime, and wound up just 5 of 18 on third downs. Even though it was a vanilla preseason matchup, Young’s absence showed in the Titans’ performance.
Teammates voiced their support for Young as he prepares for his return to the practice field.
“He’s our guy. He wasn’t out there tonight, but regardless of who’s out there under center everybody has to perform to their highest level, and we’ve got to work on that,” said tight end Bo Scaife, who led the Titans in receptions with four catches for 27 yards.
Even without Young, the Titans offered no excuses for their stale performance against the Redskins.
“We didn’t score the points we wanted to score,” said running back LenDale White, who had 12 yards on six attempts. “We should have scored a lot more. We were in the red zone, and we had some mishaps. It was the first preseason game, but there’s no excuse for it really.”
In contrast to the sluggish offense, Tennessee’s defense enjoyed an outstanding performance against a mostly inept Redskins offense. The defense produced five sacks, and two of the them — a blitz by nickelback Vincent Fuller and a rush from defensive tackle Tony Brown — forced fumbles, with Fuller’s being recovered by Sean Conover, and Brown’s resulting in a 14-yard loss on third down that preceded Finnegan’s punt return.
“It’s the first preseason game,” safety Chris Hope said. “You can’t pat yourself on the back or tell yourself how good you did.”
The Titans came within 1:14 of pitching a shutout, only to have things come unraveled with two touchdowns allowed within 30 seconds.
The first, Maurice Mason’s 1-yard run, capped a seven-play, 75-yard drive that gave Washington the lead. The next Redskins touchdown came courtesy of a low shotgun snap from rookie center Leroy Harris to Tim Rattay that squirted all the way back to the end zone where Byron Westbrook recovered it for a clinching touchdown.
“I rolled it back there. I can’t blame anybody but myself,” Harris said.
That statement could have applied to Young and the Titans offense as well.