Boxes. Wrappers. Plastic bags. They took it in stride and won in a breeze.
With Young back home resting his knee, backup quarterback Kerry Collins led Tennessee through Cincinnati’s wind-tunnel of a stadium on Sunday. He threw his first touchdown pass in two years and played the gusts expertly in a 24-7 victory, leaving the Titans unbeaten at the end of a trying week.
“It’s never easy when things are going on,” Collins said, “but you’ve got to get lost in the game plan and get ready for what’s going to happen on Sunday.”
The Titans were prepared. The Bengals simply weren’t.
Collins avoided mistakes, rookie Chris Johnson ran for 109 yards, and Rob Bironas guided a low, curving kick through gyrating uprights for a 34-yard field goal. Linebacker Keith Bulluck provided the clincher, blocking Kyle Larson’s punt in the end zone with his right arm, then snatching the ball off the ground for another touchdown.
At 2-0, the Titans are off to their best start since 1999, when they won their first three games and made the only Super Bowl appearance in franchise history. It hasn’t come easy.
Young sprained his left knee during an opening win over Jacksonville, and the Titans asked police to look for him a day later out of concern for his mental state. The drama consumed their week, and Young didn’t accompany the team to Cincinnati, where his 35-year-old backup showed he knows what he’s doing.
“I knew the old gunslinger was going to go out there and do his thing,” Bulluck said. “We had no concerns.”
Collins threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Justin Gage and made no mistakes against the Bengals (0-2), off to their worst start since Marvin Lewis became head coach in 2003.
Play by play, the Titans blew them away.
Gusts of 30 mph at the kickoff intensified to more than 50 mph in the region as the afternoon went on, turning Paul Brown Stadium into a wind machine. Swirling debris pelted the field—one of the referees’ white caps sailed more than 50 yards off his head—and every throw became a gamble. Balls floated and veered, forcing the offenses to keep it simple.
Amazingly, Collins went 14-of-21 for 128 yards without an interception.
“It was bordering on being impossible to throw the ball where you wanted to throw it,” said Collins, who drew upon his experience playing at the Meadowlands with the Giants for five years. “It just wreaked havoc on anything you were trying to do. I’ve been fairly confident at being able to throw in the wind over my career.”
The Titans’ defense took advantage, too.
Bengals receiver Chad Ocho Cinco tormented the Titans’ secondary last November in Cincinnati’s 35-6 win, catching a career-high 12 passes and three touchdowns. Bulluck warned the aching “Oucho Cinco” before the game to steer clear.
All Ocho Cinco managed was four harmless catches—he also got flagged for holding and interference—in an offense that has only one touchdown in two games. At times, the Titans’ biggest challenge was dodging debris spit out by the wind.
“I got hit with a piece of box and a pretzel wrapper flying around,” Bulluck said. “Everything was on the field. I guess their fans were a little mad about the performance that their team was doing. I would have been throwing things, too.”
The Bengals couldn’t argue. Carson Palmer was 16-of-27 for 134 yards with two interceptions, including Cortland Finnegan’s third of the season. It wasn’t all the quarterback’s fault. The Bengals’ defense had 12 men on the field for one play, sustaining a Tennessee touchdown drive, and their offense was flagged for having 12 men in the huddle.
Late in the first half, their defense was taken aback by a draw play, allowing Johnson to tear off a 51-yard run.
“I think everybody in the stadium knew they were going to run a draw, except for maybe the 11 guys on the field,” Lewis said sarcastically.
The game ended with the stadium filled with boos and fans heading for the exits early. In many ways, it felt like the bad old days.
“It’s not pretty,” offensive lineman Bobbie Williams said. “I still feel like the pressure is on us. Everything is on heightened alert. We’re 0-2. We’re not getting it done.”
Coach Jeff Fisher sidestepped questions about whether Young will start when he feels he can. “I know he wants to play when he’s healthy,” Fisher said. “We’ll deal with that at that time.” … Craig Hentrich had a 70-yard punt with the wind, 9 yards shy of the Titans’ record. … Bengals TE Ben Utecht was hit in the chest on the game’s first play, was helped off the field and didn’t return.