November 1, 2011

2009: Chris Johnson Runs for 228 Yards as Titans Beat Jaguars

The Tennessee Titans were in the midst of a dreadful season coming off of their bye week as they hosted the Jacksonville Jaguars on November 1, 2009 at LP Field. They were 0-6 and Head Coach Jeff Fisher, reportedly under pressure from owner Bud Adams, had decided to bench ineffective veteran QB Kerry Collins in favor of erratic Vince Young. It was a reversal of fortune as Collins had replaced Young following a season-opening loss in ’08 and the team had gone 12-3 the rest of the way to win the AFC South. While they lost to the Ravens in the Divisional playoff round, they had every reason to anticipate further success in 2009. Instead, they regressed on both sides of the ball and in their previous outing had been humiliated by the Patriots by a score of 59-0.

The Jaguars, under Head Coach Jack Del Rio, were 3-3 but all three wins had come in the last four games, including an easy victory over Tennessee. The team had undergone a significant overhaul, and there were several rookies in the starting lineup. Fourth-year veteran RB Maurice Jones-Drew was the key to the offense that was directed by QB David Garrard. The defense was a concern, however, due to a poor pass rush.

The first quarter was quiet, with Tennessee taking a 3-0 lead on a 48-yard field goal by Rob Bironas. On their first possession of the second quarter, the Titans went 54 yards in eight plays highlighted by Young pass completions to WR Nate Washington for 16 yards and 18 yards to TE Bo Scaife. Washington pulled in a six-yard touchdown pass and the score was 10-0.

The Titans got the ball back quickly when CB Rod Hood intercepted a Garrard pass near midfield that he returned to the Jacksonville 35. RB Chris Johnson (pictured at top) promptly took off around end for 22 yards and four plays later Bironas kicked another field goal, this time from 25 yards.

However, the Jaguars struck back in a hurry. On their first play following the kickoff, Jones-Drew ran for an 80-yard touchdown that narrowed Tennessee’s lead to 13-7. The Titans went three-and-out on their next possession, and while Jacksonville held onto the ball for eleven plays, the drive stalled at the Jaguars’ 46 and they were forced to punt. Tennessee held onto the six-point margin at halftime.

Jacksonville received the second half kickoff and once again struck with lightning quickness as Jones-Drew took off on another long scoring run, this time going 79 yards up the middle for the touchdown. The extra point attempt was blocked, but the Jaguars had tied the game at 13-13. It proved to be the high water mark for Jacksonville.

The Titans weren’t long in responding - a seven-play drive ended with Johnson running 52 yards for a TD and 20-13 Tennessee lead. Jacksonville went three-and-out and the Titans put together another scoring drive, with Young completing two passes as Tennessee went 40 yards in seven plays. Bironas booted a 45-yard field goal and the Titans were up by ten points at 23-13.

Following another Jacksonville possession that ended in a punt, the Titans took over at their own five yard line in the last minute of the third quarter. Johnson ran twice for six yards, but started the fourth quarter off with a bang as he ran 89 yards for a touchdown that essentially sealed the game for Tennessee.

The Jaguars were unable to move the ball effectively in their last three possessions, which resulted in an interception and two punts, and Tennessee came away with a convincing 30-13 win.

The Titans controlled the ball for far more plays (67 to 49) and longer time of possession (39:43 to 20:17) as they outgained the Jaguars (430 yards to 330) and had more first downs (20 to 12). 305 of those yards came on the ground and Tennessee didn’t turn the ball over at all, while Jacksonville did so twice. The Titans also sacked Garrard four times, while Young was not dumped at all by the Jaguars.

Chris Johnson set a franchise record by rushing for 228 yards on 24 carries that included two touchdowns, both of over 50 yards. Vince Young played conservatively but effectively as he completed 15 of 18 passes for 125 yards and a TD; he also added to the rushing total by gaining 30 on 12 carries (including two kneel-downs at the end). Bo Scaife caught four passes for 27 yards while WR Justin Gage gained 41 yards on his three receptions.

Overshadowed for the Jaguars in this game of big plays was Maurice Jones-Drew (pictured above), who rushed for 177 yards on just eight attempts that included two long scoring carries. He averaged 22.1 yards per attempt and became the third player in league history to have two scoring runs of 75 yards or longer in a game. Indeed, between Johnson and Jones-Drew, it was the first NFL game with four rushing touchdowns of 50 or more yards.

The other statistics for Jacksonville were far less impressive. David Garrard was successful on just 14 of 27 passes for 139 yards with no TDs and two interceptions. WR Mike Thomas was the leading receiver with four catches for 55 yards.

“He looked all right out there,” Bud Adams said of Vince Young. “I think he's coming around a lot. I think there's some things that happened to him early in his career that didn't let him concentrate on football. I think he realized he needed to work at it hard. And he has shown that.”

“It's just one week at a time now we got the first win,” Coach Jeff Fisher said, looking ahead after the team’s first win of the season. “Unfortunately, it took us a little bit too long. Now we're going to take it and just move on.”

The Titans moved on in surprising fashion as the win over Jacksonville was the first of five straight. Two losses in the last five contests kept them from qualifying for the playoffs, but as it was Tennessee finished at 8-8 and third in the AFC South. Behind them was Jacksonville at 7-9.

Chris Johnson played a major role in the second half surge and ended up as the NFL’s leading rusher while joining the exclusive two thousand-yard rushing club (2006 on 358 carries for a 5.6-yard average with 14 touchdowns). Adding on two pass receiving TDs, he had 16, which tied for second in the league with Maurice Jones-Drew. Jones-Drew ranked fourth among the league’s runners with 1391 yards on 312 attempts with 15 rushing touchdowns.

Vince Young (pictured below) went on to complete 58.7 percent of his passes (152 of 259) for 1879 yards with 10 TDs and 7 interceptions. He also rushed for 281 yards and was named to the Pro Bowl. It was a high point in a decidedly up-and-down career in Tennessee that ultimately ended badly – by the conclusion of the 2010 season, the Titans formally cut ties with the talented but drama-prone and inconsistent quarterback.