BALTIMORE – Kerry Collins doesn't want the message to be ambiguous. He wants the Tennessee Titans to be his team. And after leading a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, he hopes he delivered a clear message to the locker room.
"I hope guys will see that regardless of the circumstances, I'm going to keep playing," Collins said after leading an 80-yard drive to notch a 13-10 comeback win over Baltimore. "Just keep playing and keep playing. That, to me, is how you build that trust and how you build that rapport with your teammates. I'm not going to say it's always going to be great, because it wasn't great for a long time today."
Indeed, it wasn't great for most of Sunday, but Collins seized on the right moment at the right time, making the Titans the AFC's lone unbeaten team (5-0). Collins was an abhorrent 11 for 22 with two interceptions nearly through the game's first 54 minutes but rebounded to 6 for 10 on the Titans' game-winning drive. A drive that saw Collins work check-downs and underneath routes as Tennessee moved 80 yards in 4:11. The drive culminated with an 11-yard touchdown pass to tight end Alge Crumpler, and an improbable victory after the Titans trailed for much of the game.
"At some point, you got to stop being boneheaded," Collins said of his early mistakes. "I made a couple boneheaded throws. One of them was a tipped ball. That's going to happen. [The Ravens] are a good defense. Things like that are going to happen. I really just tried to stay calm, stick with my reads, and find the open guy."
In doing so, Collins moved his record to 4-0 since taking over as a starter from Vince Young in Week 1. Now, at 35 years old, he's using that momentum to stake his claim to the starting quarterback job – despite Young returning to practice last week from his knee injury.
"I like quarterbacking this team," Collins said. "I do. I hope guys see that. If we can keep it going, I think we can have a good year."
For one week at least, Collins is one of the NFL's biggest winners. Here are some of the league's other winners and losers this weekend …
• The Miami Dolphins
Back-to-back wins against the New England Patriots and San Diego Chargers were almost unthinkable at the start of this season. And while much of the attention is going to the single-wing offense that has been so successful in consecutive games, it's worth noting that quarterback Chad Pennington has put up extremely solid numbers this season: 817 passing yards, a 67 percent completion rate and three touchdowns against one interception.
• The New York Giants
No Plaxico Burress? No problem. How much better is this offense than last season? The wide receivers are deep, the running backs are versatile and Eli Manning is as consistent as ever. Even more, the offensive line has been truly magnificent, with only five sacks allowed in four games.
• Carolina Panthers wideout Muhsin Muhammad
I can hardly believe this is the same player I watched in Chicago the last two years. At 35 years old, he is playing like he's in his prime again with 358 receiving yards and two touchdowns in five games. At this rate, both Muhammad and Steve Smith could end up with more than 1,000 receiving yards this season.
• Washington Redskins running back Clinton Portis
He seems like he's been in the league forever, but he just turned 27 in September. With 514 rushing yards and four touchdowns in five games, Portis is on pace for one of his best seasons ever. Am I the only one who can't believe he's made only one Pro Bowl in his career?
• The Indianapolis Colts
You have to give them credit for pulling a win out of the fire, but this one comes with an asterisk. The Colts are 2-2, but also have two inconceivable fourth-quarter comebacks that have kept them from being 0-4. The next five games will make or break this season for the Colts: Baltimore Ravens, at Green Bay Packers, at Tennessee, New England and at Pittsburgh Steelers.
• The Chicago Bears and quarterback Kyle Orton
The Bears are now alone at the top of the NFC North after beating the Detroit Lions, with a serviceable offense that is better than most people realize. As for Orton, it was the career day you could see coming, with 334 passing yards and two touchdowns.
• Atlanta Falcons wideout Roddy White
Remember when this guy couldn't even catch a cold, let alone a football? Well, now he might be one of the league's best kept secrets at wide receiver. With 454 receiving yards and two touchdowns, he's well on his way to his first Pro Bowl.
• The Denver Broncos defense
For the first time in four weeks, an opponent scored fewer than 32 points. Three sacks, one interception and consistent pressure kept Tampa Bay off kilter just long enough for the Broncos to hold on for a win … and in a game when the offense scored only 16 points and needed the bailout, no less.
• Panthers running backs
If it's not Jonathan Stewart, it's DeAngelo Williams delivering a big game. The pair had 228 offensive yards Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs. If you're looking for the NFC's answer to Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor, this is it.
• Redskins tight end Chris Cooley
After wondering where he was in the game plan after the first four games, Cooley put up 109 receiving yards and a touchdown against the ridiculously fast Philadelphia Eagles linebackers. If the Redskins get him going consistently, this offense could rival some of the best in the NFC.
• The NFC South
Amazingly, it's the only division that ended Sunday without a losing team record-wise (2-2 New Orleans Saints plays the Minnesota Vikings on Monday night). There is a lot of football yet to be played, but considering Atlanta's resurgence, is there really a gimme win in this division anymore?
• The Arizona Cardinals backup wideouts
Losing Anquan Boldin was potentially devastating, but Steve Breaston and Early Doucet did just enough to keep the Buffalo Bills' secondary honest with Larry Fitzgerald. Breaston has immense talent, and just may be auditioning for Boldin's spot if he gets traded elsewhere this offseason.
• Patriots wide receivers Randy Moss and Wes Welker
The pair caught 13 balls Sunday for 184 yards and a touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers and for the first time looked like they were in a groove with Matt Cassel. It's still hard to read where this team is going, but four of the next five games should shed plenty of light, with San Diego, Denver, Indianapolis and Buffalo coming up.
• NFL officiating
It wasn't a good September for the men in pinstripes, and the start of October isn't looking any better. With the Titans trailing Baltimore 10-6 and facing third-and-10 from their own 20-yard line, Titans quarterback Kerry Collins was grazed by the hand of Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs on his helmet as he threw an incompletion. The resulting penalty and first down sparked Tennessee to an 80-yard drive for the game-winning touchdown. The call was dubious at best, terrible at worst.
• USC's 2006 draft class
With 11 picks that included a pair of Heisman Trophy winners, we thought the Trojans had produced one of the best single-season draft classes ever. But three years in, it just isn't living up to the hype. While Arizona's second-round guard Deuce Lutui has been a solid starter, neither of the touted running backs – New Orleans' Reggie Bush and Tennessee's LenDale White – has been able to carry a full load consistently. Bush has been more of a hybrid wideout, while White has lost his starting spot to rookie Chris Johnson. White got only four touches Sunday, while Johnson got 20. The rest of the Trojans' 2006 class? Guard Fred Matua is out of the league, while seven other players – quarterback Matt Leinart, tackle Winston Justice, defensive end Frostee Rucker, tight end Dominique Byrd, linebacker Darnell Bing, fullback David Kirtman and defensive tackle LaJuan Ramsey – are backups or on a practice squad.
• The Chiefs
Sunday's loss to Carolina was every bit as ugly as you would expect with only 127 total yards on offense. Damon Huard and Tyler Thigpen make you wish for the good ol' days of Brodie Croyle, who should be back in the next two weeks. If the Chiefs fall behind and are forced to pass the ball to stay in the game, only bad things are going to happen.
• Lions coach Rod Marinelli
If there were ever a team that looked like it had given up this season, it was Detroit on Sunday. The surest sign that coach Marinelli is probably in his last season with Detroit: The Lions have four sacks in four games, a horrific stat considering Marinelli was hired in part because of his expertise on defense and his ability to motivate players. Maybe it was Warren Sapp and Simeon Rice that made those Tampa Bay defensive lines so great, huh?
• The Green Bay Packers
Nine penalties and giving up 253 yards combined to Atlanta's Roddy White and Michael Turner wasn't pretty. Losing Cullen Jenkins for the season last week hurts, but the Packers need some other consistent playmakers not named Charles Woodson and Aaron Kampman. And it might be time to start scheming regularly to produce a pass rush (hello, blitz) from those linebackers.
• The Texans and quarterback Sage Rosenfels
The Texans had a win in the bank versus the Colts, but Rosenfels' two fumbles in the fourth quarter – both leading to Indianapolis touchdowns – were devastating. Sure, he's not the starter, but there are those who believe the 30 year old is a quality alternative should Matt Schaub not work out in the long term. After Sunday, they might want to re-think their position.
• Colts wideout Marvin Harrison
At 36 years old and coming off a knee injury last season, Harrison's star days are behind him. With 164 receiving yards through four games, his speed has diminished to the point where even his precise route-running rarely gets him open anymore. At $9 million in base salary in 2009, he looks like a certain cap casualty if his deal isn't renegotiated.
• The Chargers
Quarterback Philip Rivers hasn't consistently moved the chains the last two weeks, completing only 27-of-53 passes. The defense notched only one sack against immobile Chad Pennington, but the failure to punch the ball in on fourth-and-1 while trailing 17-10 was embarrassing. Two years ago, this was a team that dominated the line of scrimmage. Since Norv Turner took over, the offensive line isn't nearly as physical.
• The Seattle Seahawks
Mike Holmgren's farewell tour has turned into a four-alarm fire. There isn't another "easy" game on the schedule until December. And the defense is looking atrocious. Throw out the Week 3 game over the pushover St. Louis Rams. This unit has given up 111 points to Buffalo, San Francisco and the Giants. The secondary has been awful, particularly in the playmaking aspect, with only one interception in four games.
• Bills quarterback J.P. Losman
If anyone wondered what kind of difference Trent Edwards really made, they got a chance to see it Sunday during the loss to Arizona. Losman made some big plays, but with his five sacks and one interception, the offense stalled far too often. Improved defense or not, Edwards is the difference between winning and losing for this team.
– Texans defensive end Mario Williams, on the Colts scoring 21 points in the final 4:04 Sunday to beat the Texans 31-27.
(Five things I loved and five things I loathed)
Loved: The Fox gameday feature on the Oakland Raiders. Splicing in owner Al Davis' now-classic news conference was genius, particularly the part where Davis talked about not knowing enough to be able to introduce new head coach Tom Cable.
Loathed: Seeing Tennessee cornerback Cortland Finnegan lose his mind and draw a pair of personal foul penalties, and then mouth off and get pushed by Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck. The personal foul penalties were foolish, but thinking about mixing it up with Bulluck is straight insane.
Loved: Seeing Tony Gonzalez surpass Shannon Sharpe's record for career receiving yards (10,074) by a tight end. Gonzalez has long been an underappreciated star in the league, largely because – unlike Sharpe – he rarely runs his mouth. He might be the best tight end ever, and we hardly talk about him.
Loathed: Seeing the Chargers fall behind early, yet again. The talent is undeniable, but this team just looks soft to me.
Loved: Seeing Bears wideout Devin Hester catch his second touchdown of the season. He's got far too much talent to just be a return specialist. It's good to see him starting to bridge the gap on offense.
Loathed: Trying to figure out who the dependable teams are in the NFL. Clearly the Giants are up there. And we can depend on the Lions, who are consistently bad. But Carolina drubbing Kansas City one week after Kansas City wiped out Denver? Then you have Miami, which beat San Diego, which wiped out the New York Jets, who beat Miami. This league is maddening.
Loved: Seeing Eli and the Giants succeed without Plaxico Burress. Manning is off to a fantastic start, and looking more like a leader than ever. Burress should take note of Domenik Hixon and Sinorice Moss. Burress doesn't make or break this team.
Loathed: Watching Houston lose it at the very end for the second straight week. This has to be an excruciating start for Texans fans. But take heart – Houston plays Detroit and the Cincinnati Bengals this month.
Loved: Seeing Ronnie Brown rush for 125 yards and a touchdown against San Diego. The whole single-wing offense still seems gimmicky, but Brown looks like he's 100 percent again after last season's knee injury.
Loathed: Seeing winless teams in Houston, Detroit, Cincinnati and St. Louis this late in the season. You get the feeling one of that foursome (my money is on Detroit) is going to make a serious run at 0-16.
- Kerry Collins