The Tennessee Titans are starting to look pretty prescient for
that big contract they handed out this summer. Just not the one
they gave to Chris Johnson.
Matt Hasselbeck looks to duplicate a breakout performance with
his new team – hopefully with a little more help from his running
game – as the Titans host the injury-ravaged Denver Broncos on
Throughout August, a contract extension for the holdout Johnson
dominated storylines coming out of Titans camp, overshadowing a
move that perhaps was even more critical for Tennessee’s short-term
success: a new quarterback.
Having let Vince Young and Kerry Collins walk away following a
season in which it ranked 25th in passing yardage, the club signed
Hasselbeck to a three-year, $21 million deal immediately after the
lockout. The longtime Seattle signal-caller has quickly responded
by adding some punch to the Titans’ usually run-first attack.
He ranks sixth in the league with 621 passing yards after
throwing for 358 in last Sunday’s 26-13 win over Baltimore.
“We knew that he could come in and be a leader, and if anyone
could get caught up on what we are doing in a short amount of time,
it would be a guy like him,” said coach Mike Munchak, who notched
his first NFL victory. “Now two games in, (we’re) just excited to
see where he’s at. The guy finds windows to deliver balls.”
Success has not come as easy on the ground, even if Munchak’s
club is armed with a $56 million running back. Johnson got only
nine carries in a Week 1 loss to Jacksonville as he worked his way
back into game shape, but got a steady dose of action last week –
24 carries – and was held to 53 yards.
Despite his struggles, the Titans (1-1) still dominated a rugged
foe, and Johnson was more than happy to let the game serve as a
statement to future opponents.
“A lot of teams come in thinking they can just load the box and
if they stop me, they can win. … It just showed we have other
playmakers,” he said. “We have other ways to beat you. Hopefully,
they help out and let other teams around the NFL know you just
can’t stack the box and try to stop me and win.”
The Broncos (1-1) likely need the injuries to stop if they’re
going to keep winning.
Missing key starters Brandon Lloyd, Champ Bailey, Knowshon
Moreno, D.J. Williams and Elvis Dumervil, Denver clawed its way to
a 24-22 win over Cincinnati last Sunday. Things look more promising
for Lloyd, Moreno and Williams as they all returned to practice
Wednesday, but Dumervil has been ruled out.
Bailey’s status is still up in the air due to a balky hamstring.
The All-Pro cornerback’s absence could be particularly critical as
the Denver secondary is forced to deal with Kenny Britt, who, along
with Pittsburgh’s Mike Wallace, has the longest active streak in
the league (five games) of 85 or more receiving yards.
For that reason, the Broncos would do well to continue following
the mantra of linebacker Joe Mays.
“The next man up is the best man up,” Mays said, “and whenever
your number is called you have to go out there and execute whatever
the coach asks you to do. Every single player on the team deserves
to be here and you never know when your number is called.”
The Broncos got standout performances from second-stringers
Willis McGahee (101 rushing yards) and Eric Decker (113 receiving)
– one of just two wideouts left standing by game’s end – but the
team is eager to welcome back its leading receiver, rusher, tackler
and sack threat.
“I hope we don’t have to repeat yesterday’s depth chart,” Fox
said Monday, one day after the former Carolina coach got his 74th
regular-season win and first with Denver.
He’s looking forward to his matchup against the new Titans
“I know Mike pretty well, I know a lot of guys on their staff,”
Fox said. “It’s a small fraternity of people and you kind of know
their M.O. and they know yours. It’s what makes the games fun.”
As Denver takes to the road for the first time this season, it
will be looking for the 400th win in franchise history.
One of them came in Nashville last Oct. 3, when Williams and
company limited Johnson to 53 yards on 19 carries en route to a
26-20 win. Conversely, Broncos running backs were held to eight
yards as Kyle Orton was forced to air it out for 341 – 115 of them
to Lloyd on a career-high 11 receptions.
But those were two different teams under two different coaches.
On Sunday, a new era continues for both as each coach tries to
build off his first win with his current team.
“Hopefully, it helps build confidence in our players in a lot of
different areas,” Munchak said after his inaugural win against the
Ravens. “… And kind of carries over into next week and the rest
of the season.”