October 19, 2010
With the Tennessee Titans comfortably ahead of the Jacksonville Jaguars on Monday night, coach Jeff Fisher decided to leave All-Pro Chris Johnson in the game with under two minutes remaining so the running back could get a chance at getting 100 yards. It was a curious decision and one that became the focus of postgame talks with the media.
With 1:40 left in the game and the Titans up by 20 points, Johnson scored a 35-yard touchdown on fourth-and-5. The run put him at 111 yards for the evening:
Titans coach Jeff Fisher defended going for the touchdown after the game. He implied that it would have been worse sportsmanship to kick a field goal and that it was all right to run the ball because Jags coach Jack Del Rio took two timeouts after the two-minute warning.
"At the end of the game like that, you don't kick a long field goal, you don't, you hand it off." [...]
"You can check with Jack. It didn't bother me at all. [...] Honestly, I have no issues with Jack or how he managed the end of that game. It's just what it was, and I don't think he would have an issue with me handing the ball off."
Fisher is 100 percent correct on both points. Kicking a field goal would have been in poor taste. Downing the ball wasn't a feasible option either. The Titans should have played the fourth-and-5 to get a first down and if, lo and behold, the Jags were playing poorly enough on defense to give up a touchdown, then so be it. No NFL team should pass that up. This isn't Alabama vs. McNeese State, it's a matchup between two teams leading a division.
But Fisher's defense misses the point of the discussion. It's not running the ball that was bad, it was the decision to leave Chris Johnson in the game. Fisher could have run the ball with Javon Ringer(notes) and it wouldn't have been an issue. Why risk injury to your team's only offensive weapon just so he can cross an arbitrary milestone? With the rash of injuries in the NFL this week, was it really worth it?
Chris Johnson thinks it was:
"I told them to put me back in the game. [...] Pretty much, it's the four-minute offense that we work on in practice. We're gonna have to work to get better at that. When we played Denver, we had a chance to end the game, and we weren't able to do that. That's something we still need to work on, and I feel like we're getting better." [...]
"[Getting 100 yards cheaply] don't matter when you look at the stats. Last year, when you look at 2,000 yards, you don't say you got all these yards late in the game and things like that. We still have to close the game out. So I love all the yards."
That could be your answer. Johnson asked to go back in the game and Fisher obliged. The risk of injury was less than the risk of possibly alienating his best weapon.
Maybe there was some method to the madness after all.
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