The seemingly irreparable relationship between Vince Young(notes) and coach Jeff Fisher won’t have to be figured out until the offseason now that the quarterback will miss the rest of the year with a thumb injury.
Tennessee is just hoping that its season isn’t unfixable as well.
After a tumultuous week that also included a cancer diagnosis for their offensive coordinator, the Titans will try to get back on track Sunday as quarterback Rusty Smith(notes) makes his first NFL start against the struggling Houston Texans.
Young needs season-ending surgery to repair a flexor tendon in his right thumb, which he injured in the third quarter of last Sunday’s 19-16 overtime loss to Washington.
Things became even messier for Young and the Titans (5-5) after that.
Young, who tossed his pads into the stands while leaving the field, reportedly got into a heated exchange with Fisher and stormed out of the stadium. An assistant coach asked Young not to attend a team meeting Tuesday.
While Titans owner Bud Adams reportedly said he wants his quarterback and coach to “get this thing settled,” and Young texted Fisher an apology Wednesday, it’s unclear whether their relationship can be reconciled.
“I think there will be a conversation at some point,” Fisher said. “I’m not going to put a timetable on it. He’s on injured reserve, and we’re moving on.”
The Titans also are dealing with offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger being diagnosed with cancer Wednesday. Heimerdinger will call the plays Sunday and start his treatment Monday.
Under Heimerdinger this year, Young threw for 1,255 yards and 10 touchdowns while posting a career-high quarterback rating of 98.6.
A sixth-round draft pick this year out of Florida Atlantic, Smith threw nine passes in his first NFL appearance last week, completing three for 62 yards. He also had an interception.
“We’ve had changes in three of the last four games with Vince and Kerry,” Fisher told the Titans’ official website. “Now we’ve got another one. I’m excited for Rusty because Rusty knows what to do. Rusty understands the offense. There is going to be some growing pains with him a little bit, but … I think Rusty will be successful.”
Smith, who will try to get Randy Moss(notes) the ball after the Titans’ newcomer was held without a catch against Washington, could have some success against a Houston pass defense that ranks last in the NFL. The Texans have given up a league-high 25 passing touchdowns while allowing 301.0 yards per game.
Houston had enough trouble slowing down reigning NFL rushing champion Chris Johnson last year. Johnson averaged 7.7 yards per carry and 174.0 yards per game as the teams split two meetings.
Despite a three-game losing streak and the Young mess, Tennessee still has a lot to play for. At 5-5, it’s only one game behind Jacksonville and Indianapolis for the AFC South lead.
The Texans (4-6) remain in the hunt as well despite having lost their last four, with the last two coming in especially difficult fashion.
Houston lost 30-27 to the New York Jets last Sunday after Mark Sanchez(notes) threw a short touchdown pass with 10 seconds remaining. The Texans had scored 20 unanswered points to erase a 16-point fourth-quarter deficit.
The loss came a week after cornerback Glover Quin(notes) batted Jacksonville quarterback David Garrard’s(notes) last-second heave into the waiting hands of Mike Thomas(notes), which gave the Jaguars the winning touchdown in the Texans’ 31-24 loss.
Owner Bob McNair weighed in Wednesday, calling the Texans “underperforming” but also expressing optimism.
“I think we’re going to go out and win this game,” McNair said. “If we win this game, then probably we’ll be in the second place in the division, one game out.
“My message to the fans is, this team has not quit,” he said. “They’re still fighting, and they’ll continue fighting. I think that you’re going to see some very pleasant things happening in the future.”
The late breakdown in Jacksonville led Houston coach Gary Kubiak to move defensive coordinator Frank Bush from the press box to the sidelines, but the Texans gave up 401 yards of offense to the Jets after allowing a season-worst 491 the previous week.
Houston ranks 31st in the NFL in yards allowed per game with 408.8, but Kubiak gave Bush, whom he hired in 2007, a vote of confidence.
“I believe in him,” Kubiak said. “We played much better defense. There were a lot of good things that went on. I believe in the guy. We’ll figure out a way to get it done.”
The Texans’ running game also has struggled the last two weeks, gaining 97 yards against the Jets and 81 versus the Jaguars. Prior to that, it was averaging 136.5 yards.
Like the Titans, the Texans aren’t giving up on the season, especially with three more division games.
Both 2009 games between Houston and Tennessee were decided by three points. The Titans won at Houston 20-17 on Nov. 23, 2009, improving to 12-4 in the all-time series and 6-2 in their franchise’s former home.
Texans quarterback Matt Schaub(notes) was outstanding against Tennessee last year, going 50 of 78 for 662 yards and six touchdowns without an interception. Three of the scores and 227 of the yards went to Andre Johnson(notes).