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99 Yards to Go

Sept. 13, 2010
Sept. 13, 2010

Table of Contents
Sept. 13, 2010

LEADING OFF
Inside: THE WEEK IN SPORTS
FRESH FACES
  • Tim Tebow is a pro, and so is a Texan named McCoy. The college football season kicked off last week minus many familiar names, but in their place emerged several fresh faces who are ready for their close-ups

  • For the first time, JoePa started the season with a true freshman at QB. Will his decision pay off?

99 YARDS
  • How does a team pull off a length-of-the-field, game-winning touchdown drive in the final two minutes? With snap decisions, sharp execution and a healthy dose of luck

SURFING
  • When violent storms send giant swells rolling across the Pacific, the world's most daring surfers will drop everything and travel anywhere to risk their lives riding a wall of water as high as 100 feet

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Departments

99 Yards to Go

How does a team pull off a length-of-the-field, game-winning touchdown drive in the final two minutes? With snap decisions, sharp execution and a healthy dose of luck

In the dim light of the Titans' locker room, one day this summer, wide receiver Kenny Britt pulled up his left shirt sleeve to reveal a two-inch scar across his softball-sized deltoid. He studied the faint black line for a moment, then gently rubbed it as if polishing a badge of honor. Which, to him, it is.

This is an article from the Sept. 13, 2010 issue

Seven months earlier, with the sun setting on LP Field and on the Titans' 2009 season, Britt sneaked across the back of the end zone and made a leaping 10-yard grab with no time on the clock that gave Tennessee a 20--17 victory over the Cardinals. When Britt landed, safety Matt Ware jolted him with a sharp, thumping blow that pierced his skin.

Britt didn't realize he was bleeding that day until he pulled off his shoulder pads in the locker room. His endorphins were raging, and with good reason. The catch of Vince Young's dart capped an 18-play, 99-yard drive that gave the Titans their fifth win in a row and kept alive their hopes of becoming the first team to reach the playoffs after an 0--6 start. (Tennessee would finish 8--8 and miss the postseason.) Since 2000 it was just the 10th time that a team had scored a TD to win a game with no time left and the only time a team had gone the length of the field to do so.

More improbable than the 18-play march was the manner in which it played out. The Titans converted three fourth downs—the first on a play that offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger (who in 2008 returned to the post he'd held in the early 2000s) absolutely loathed and thought had no chance to succeed, and the last on a call that was drawn up on the sideline during a timeout. Tennessee got two catches from a receiver, Lavelle Hawkins, who'd entered the game with zero for the year; two from a rookie tight end, Jared Cook, who'd had only seven in the first 10 games; and three from a rookie wideout, Britt, who had coughed up the ball, and seemingly the game, one series earlier after a 51-yard gain. The quarterback who directed the drive, the erratic Young, had regained his starting job only four games earlier after having lost it the previous season. Most remarkable of all, in those 18 plays, the league's most dangerous open-field player, All-Pro running back Chris Johnson, did not touch the ball.

During a break in off-season workouts, Heimerdinger and his players reviewed the Nov. 29 game film and recounted, play-by-play, how they pulled off the most remarkable drive of the '09 season.

DOWN

1

TO GO

10

BALL ON

1

TIME

2:37

Formation

Two tight ends, one receiver on either side, one back.

Play

Believing the Cards will be looking for a quick pass, Heimerdinger hopes to cross them up by calling for a hitch-and-go with speedster Nate Washington down the left side. Britt, the safety valve, will run a short out on the right.

Result

Young pump-fakes for Washington but is pressured; he scrambles to the right and hits Britt for a six-yard gain.

HEIMERDINGER: "I wasn't going to run the ball on the one, so I'm thinking, What pass do I have that just gets us some breathing room? In [a two-minute offense] it's important to get something early. That's why you see so many people run a draw or screen on the first play of two-minute, because the worst thing that can happen is an incompletion. It took some balls to go with a double move because it takes time to develop and there's the risk of a safety. I was guessing that [Arizona] would be squatting on something on the outside. I come out and look at this coverage and say, 'This is a bad, bad call [because they're playing nine yards off Washington].' Vince does a good job of getting out of trouble and making a play."

DOWN

2

TO GO

4

BALL ON

7

TIME

2:05

Formation

Two tight ends, one receiver on either side, one back.

Play

The Titans have two timeouts remaining, plus the two-minute warning, so there is no sense of panic. Heimerdinger wants to keep the big-play threat alive, so he calls for Britt to run a skinny post on the outside, with two underneath routes as outlets.

Result

Tight end Bo Scaife catches the ball out-of-bounds on the right. Incomplete.

YOUNG: "I went the wrong way on this play. I should have gone to the other side, to [tight end] Alge [Crumpler]. I was thinking short side of the field, get the ball out quickly to Bo, and I didn't throw a good ball."

TWO-MINUTE WARNING

DOWN

3

TO GO

4

BALL ON

7

TIME

2:00

Formation

Shotgun, three receivers to the left, Britt wide right.

Play

Heimerdinger wants one-on-one coverage on the backside for Britt, who's running a short slant. If Britt gets the ball quickly, he can pick up a good chunk of yardage after the catch.

Result

Young throws low to Britt. Incomplete.

HEIMERDINGER: "Vince makes the right read but just makes a bad throw. Kenny's got [cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie] beaten, but he's a little bit too [far upfield] when he comes out of his break. But it's the perfect look. If Kenny comes flat and Vince makes a good throw, we got a long gain."

DOWN

4

TO GO

4

BALL ON

7

TIME

1:56

Formation

Shotgun, two-by-two (two receivers to each side), one back.

Play

Run each of the four receivers 10 yards off the line, then have them plant and turn back to Young, who'll choose the best option.

Result

Britt makes a catch over cornerback Bryant McFadden for a 10-yard gain.

HEIMERDINGER: "I'm in a panic. It's fourth-and-four, and I've just missed on the three-step drop. So I say, I'll call Vince's favorite play, All Pivot. Vince's feeling about the play is based on comfort; he thinks he can make this go no matter what, even though his completion percentage isn't very good on it. I hate the play because it's only good against two coverages: three-deep and quarters [four defensive backs playing deep across the field]. Well, I've caught the worst coverage I can catch on this play—two-man [two safeties deep; the Cards also had man coverage on three of the four receivers, with one corner off his man]—which never crossed my mind. In two-man, [the corners'] backs are turned and everybody is covering, so I teach Vince whenever he sees two-man, take a step and run.

"When I saw them drop to this coverage, I said, Game over; we have no play. Vince throws it outside to Kenny, but it's against the worst coverage you could get."

BRITT: "I wasn't expecting to get the ball because we're taught to get inside the corner, and I didn't do that. When I turned around, I saw the ball beaming at the back of the corner's head. I'm thinking, He really threw me the ball? I'm down at the time because I fumbled on the previous series, and now I don't get inside the corner."

YOUNG: "Kenny's man had his head turned. Anytime you have a cornerback who's not looking at the ball, you have a better shot at completing it, regardless of the coverage. All you have to do is throw it at the back of his head, and that's what I did. Coach Heimerdinger doesn't like that play much at all, but that play is 100 percent for us. If you go pull up that play in our computer—All Pivot—it's 100 percent for us. We always complete that ball."

DOWN

1

TO GO

10

BALL ON

17

TIME

1:36

Formation

No huddle, shotgun, two-by-two.

Play

In no-huddle Young makes the call. He goes with four vertical routes, then looks for Johnson underneath.

Result

Defensive tackle Calais Campbell tips the pass intended for Johnson near the line; Scaife catches the deflection downfield and rumbles for a 19-yard gain.

HEIMERDINGER: "Vince went to a scheme he really likes. When the clock is running, he's trying to check it down to Chris. His read is right, but there's just a lot of luck that goes into this completion."

YOUNG: "Our receivers adjust routes depending on the coverage, and I was ready to throw up top. But [Washington] ran his route a little too deep, and I had to come down to my checkdown because I was waiting on him too long. The guy made a good tip. I'm thinking it's about to be an interception because I saw [safeties Antrel] Rolle [and Adrian Wilson] running full speed toward the ball."

DOWN

1

TO GO

10

BALL ON

36

TIME

1:13

Formation

Shotgun, two-by-two, one back.

Objective

The clock is running, so Young, who's again calling his own play, wants to work the sideline and preserve his two remaining timeouts. Young goes with three short routes and a flare by Johnson.

Result

Two-yard completion on a drag route to Hawkins, who gets out-of-bounds.

YOUNG: "Just took what the defense gave us. As a quarterback, you've got to stay in your assignment and do what you've been taught all week; and defenses in these situations are going to stay with what they're good at. Every defense in the league plays this type of [soft] coverage, especially in two minutes, because they want to keep everything in front of them. In the past I tried to force things downfield and there'd be an interception. Now I've gotten more comfortable, more mature. I take what the defense gives me if they want to drop back that deep."

DOWN

2

TO GO

8

BALL ON

38

TIME

1:09

Formation

Shotgun, three receivers to the right, Britt to the left, one back.

Play

With the clock stopped, Heimerdinger sends the play in through Young's headset. He sets up a high-low situation, in which Young can take a shot downfield but has a shorter outlet if necessary.

Result

Young hits Cook crossing underneath. He races to the left sideline, gaining 12 yards and stopping the clock.

HEIMERDINGER: "Cook had been in my doghouse, but he's in the game because we need speed on the field. Vince's feet are good, he makes a great decision, and Cookie does a great job of getting it out-of-bounds."

DOWN

1

TO GO

10

BALL ON

50

TIME

1:03

Formation

Shotgun, two-by-two, one back.

Play

Heimerdinger calls for a deep out to Washington.

Result

Young overthrows Washington on the left side. Incomplete.

HEIMERDINGER: "They go back to the single safety, and Vince is really reading this right."

YOUNG: "Nate was a little fatigued, because I know he would have come out of his route a little bit quicker."

DOWN

2

TO GO

10

BALL ON

50

TIME

0:57

Formation

Shotgun, three receivers right, Britt left, one back.

Play

After going with short and intermediate routes, Heimerdinger believes the Cardinals are ripe for a deep ball. So while Britt baits McFadden with a comeback route on the backside of the formation, Cook tries to slip behind McFadden on a corner route from the opposite side.

Result

Young looks downfield and then is flushed from the pocket. He scrambles to the right sideline for a six-yard gain.

HEIMERDINGER: "I'm not thinking run [with Johnson], because of the clock. I've got to get closer. If we needed a field goal, I'd hit a run or a screen. But we need a touchdown. I'd have to get down to the seven or eight before I start thinking run. Vince does a nice job of getting out of trouble and not taking a sack."

YOUNG: "I wanted to throw it, but I had to be safe. That's one of the things that coach [Jeff] Fisher teaches about two minutes: A quarterback using his legs kills you. You see on the next play that the [Cardinals'] defensive coordinator [Bill Davis] got so mad, he blitzed me."

DOWN

3

TO GO

4

BALL ON

44

TIME

0:48

Formation

Shotgun, three receivers left, Britt right, one back.

Play

Heimerdinger is looking to clear out with downfield routes, then come underneath to Scaife on the right.

Result

Under pressure, Young throws it away.

HEIMERDINGER: "This is the first time we've gotten the blitz [two safeties and a linebacker]. I've called the same play with the drag route because I didn't think I'd get this coverage. I thought I'd get the two-deep that [Arizona] used against this formation earlier."

DOWN

4

TO GO

4

BALL ON

44

TIME

0:43

Formation

Shotgun, two-by-two, one back.

Play

On fourth down Heimerdinger calls an over-under. He puts Hawkins in the left slot, then has him run a quick out beneath Britt, who is running a deep in.

Result

Hawkins beats nickelback Michael Adams in one-on-one coverage; Young hits him in the left flat. Hawkins scampers out-of-bounds after a 13-yard gain.

HEIMERDINGER: "Hawk does a great job on the five-step [out pattern], because he's the hot read. They blitzed us again, and Hawk does a nice job of separating."

YOUNG: "I knew presnap that's where I was going because Hawk was one-on-one, and I knew from film study that the guy covering him wasn't a great one-on-one guy. You always want to take those matchups. One-on-one, Hawk is going to win most times because of his explosiveness and his good feet."

DOWN

1

TO GO

10

BALL ON

31

TIME

0:37

Formation

Shotgun, two-by-two, one back.

Play

After being blitzed twice in a row, Heimerdinger figures that Cardinals coordinator Davis will back off this time. So he calls for an underneath route.

Result

Five-yard completion to Scaife, who goes out-of-bounds on the left sideline.

HEIMERDINGER: "[Davis] is on a roll right now, and I'm not doing very good with my play-calling. We've had two routes where we lucked our ass off—I called the worst play possible when we were backed up on fourth down, and he called the perfect coverage; we just happened to execute it. Then he comes after me twice with blitzes and had a chance for a sack, and Vince got out of it. Vince is saving me. He's making good decisions."

DOWN

2

TO GO

5

BALL ON

26

TIME

0:33

Formation

Shotgun, two-by-two, one back.

Play

Heimerdinger wants to show the same formation and have Arizona think he's looking for another short sideline route to kill the clock, then go long.

Result

The Cardinals drop into coverage, rushing only three. Young pumps left and then throws over a double-covered Washington, out of the end zone.

HEIMERDINGER: "We had just run drag-go. Vince says, 'Let me put Nate on an out-and-up. I think this guy's going to sit [on the short route].' Vince is pumping, trying to get him to bite, but there's too much of a cushion by the corner. Thank God, Vince threw it away. He said, 'If I pump the flat to Bo, the corner will come up and I can throw over the top to Nate.' The staff laughed at me because when Vince said it on the sideline, I said O.K. On the headset I heard, 'You're going to let him do that?' I said, 'At least he'll make a good decision.' When he let it go against that cushion, I'm like, 'No! Get it out-of-bounds.' But he threw it where no one could get it.

YOUNG: "When Nate took the inside release, the safety [Ralph Brown] came into play. If Nate had stayed outside, I could have given him a better shot at the ball and making a play. But when he took the inside release, I thought, Just throw it away."

DOWN

3

TO GO

5

BALL ON

26

TIME

0:28

Formation

Shotgun, two-by-two, one back.

Play

Heimerdinger wants to take an intermediate shot in the middle of the field, but the Cardinals blitz with linebacker Gerald Hayes coming up the middle and safeties from each side.

Result

Young reads the blitz and, with Hayes in his face, hits Cook short across the middle. Cook sprints left for a 17-yard gain and dives out at the nine.

YOUNG: "We had a great play call. Cookie ran a great route."

CARDINALS TIMEOUT

DOWN

1

TO GO

GOAL

BALL ON

9

TIME

0:21

Formation

Three receivers right, Britt left, one back.

Play

The primary read is Hawkins from the right slot. His route calls for him to fake an out, then pivot back to the middle.

Result

Hawkins slips on the pivot. Young looks for Scaife at the back of the end zone, but he'd cut off his route. Incomplete.

HEIMERDINGER: "The incompletion actually benefits us because if Hawk keeps his feet, he's going to get inside the five, and now I've got to start calling stuff from the four-yard line. [From the nine-yard line] we've got more room to do some things; I'm getting limited if I get inside the four. Then I have to make the decision: Do I run? Where's the clock? What three-step stuff do I have? I can't stretch [the field] as much as I'd like, so we kind of lucked out."

DOWN

2

TO GO

GOAL

BALL ON

9

TIME

0:17

Formation

Shotgun, two-by-two, one back.

Play

Heimerdinger wants to run a play similar to the previous one, with Scaife going upfield and clearing space for Washington underneath.

Result

Young pumps, then looks to run; he's tackled for a one-yard loss.

HEIMERDINGER: "This is part of our red-zone package, and we've practiced this play forever. [Johnson] is supposed to be lined up on the right side, but he's on the left. Now we've got three guys in the same spot. Vince is looking for CJ, but he's not in the spot he should be. So the sack comes, which we don't want. We have to use the timeout."

TITANS TIMEOUT

DOWN

3

TO GO

GOAL

BALL ON

10

TIME

0:11

Formation

Shotgun, two-by-two, one back. Hawkins comes in motion to the right.

Play

Washington, on the outside of the formation, is supposed to cross toward the middle, stop, then continue. The safety Brown makes contact with Washington during the route. No flag is thrown.

Result

Young's pass skips off Washington's hands and falls incomplete.

HEIMERDINGER: "I'm going to try to run the same play [as the previous down]; I'm just dressing the damn thing up. Everybody is doing the same thing from a different side of the formation, and Nate tries to make a move—I thought we were going to win it on this one, I really did. Nate's got [Brown beat]. Nate's job is to sit and, when he bites, come right back across."

YOUNG: "It should have been pass interference."

TITANS TIMEOUT

DOWN

4

TO GO

GOAL

BALL ON

10

TIME

0:06

Formation

Shotgun, two-by-two, one back.

Play

Heimerdinger had planned to run the third-down play again but decides he doesn't like it against the quarters coverage he's seen the last two snaps. So during the timeout he draws up a play on the fly, lining up two-by-two, with the inside receivers running pivot routes and the outside receivers running ins, or posts, behind them.

Result

Arizona waits to see how the Titans line up, then calls ...

CARDINALS TIMEOUT

DOWN

4

TO GO

GOAL

BALL ON

10

TIME

0:06

Formation

Shotgun, three receivers to the right, Britt to the left, one back.

Play

Heimerdinger plans to stick with his call, but the Cardinals have seen the formation. So he changes up the look by having Hawkins motion from a three-receiver set on the right to a two-by-two. He and Scaife then run pivot routes from the slot, with Britt and Washington running ins over the top.

Result

Young feels pressure from the four-man rush, scrambles toward the line, then fires to Britt at the back of the end zone. Touchdown.

BRITT: "The crazy thing is, we had never run that play. It was maybe the third time I had ever heard it, but never in a game. I thought [of Heimerdinger], This guy's crazy. It's up to the quarterback to read the defense, and if the safety comes down and drives on that pivot route, then you go over the top to the post. I see when I'm lining up that the safety is running down to get that pivot route, and the corner's running back to the outside like I'm running a fade. I'm thinking, This can't be happening right now. Once I saw that, at my break I see Vince scrambling, and I'm thinking, Stay alive."

YOUNG: "I was going to run it in there, but Kenny's eyes and my eyes started looking at each other, and I know Kenny. He loves the ball up. That's all he preaches when we're doing red-zone stuff in practice: 'V, throw it up to me.'"

HEIMERDINGER: "We have not run that play in practice, in OTAs or in two-a-days since I've been back [with the Titans]. I knew Vince had run it as a rookie so he would know the read, but Hawk had never run the play, Kenny had never run the play, Nate had never run the play and Chris had never run the play. The only receiver who knew what to do was Bo. I don't think it was ballsy [to draw up a play on the sideline], and I don't know if it was stupid, because I knew it was the best route against the coverage that I could possibly call. So I felt good about it. Whether we got the distribution right and everyone got in the right spots, I wasn't sure about that. I was taking a chance that a bunch of guys would be the athletes we pay them to be and make a play. They did."

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PHOTOPhotograph by STREETER LECKA/GETTY IMAGESTHE LONG VIEW Even after pushing out to the seven on the first play, Tennessee had a vast expanse to cross before reaching pay dirt.PHOTODONNJONESPHOTOGRAPHY.COM/TITANSNO-LOOK PASS Britt snagged his first fourth-down catch over McFadden, who had his back turned to the QB.PHOTODONNJONESPHOTOGRAPHY.COM/TITANSTIPPED FOR SUCCESS Scaife caught a deflected pass intended for Johnson and rumbled for a 19-yard gain.PHOTODONNJONESPHOTOGRAPHY.COM/TITANSRUN TIME With just under a minute to go, Young looked deep but sensed pressure and scrambled for six yards.PHOTODONNJONESPHOTOGRAPHY.COM/TITANSLIFE PRESERVER Hawkins beat man coverage to save the drive with 37 seconds left.PHOTODONNJONESPHOTOGRAPHY.COM/TITANSBLUE SKY Britt, whose fumble had killed the Titans' previous drive, went high and held on tight for the game-winner.TWENTY CHARTS