Now he's finally showing the rest of the NFL why the Titans didn't need to sign a big-name player or draft a hotshot kid.
Justin Gage registered the most yards receiving by a Titans receiver since 2004, catching four passes for a career-high 147 yards at Jacksonville.
The six-year veteran had one of his best games yet last week by catching four passes for a career-high 147 yards. Two of those receptions were for touchdowns for his first multi-TD game, and the catches — at 56 and 38 yards — rank third and fourth in his career. It was the most yards receiving by a Titans receiver since Drew Bennett had 160 against Oakland on Dec. 19, 2004.
"It's irritating to hear when everybody around the league, media saying the Titans don't have receivers. They don't have this, they don't have," Gage said Wednesday. "At that point, there was nothing we could do but wait for the season. Now that opportunity is here."
Not bad for a player cast off by the team that drafted him, who then gambled on a one-year deal in Tennessee last season. All the 6-foot-4, 212-pound receiver did was catch 55 passes — 45 of those for first downs. That ranked him behind only Dallas' Terrell Owens and Denver's Brandon Stokley for the highest percentage of catches to move the chains.
He led the Titans with 750 yards receiving, earning himself a four-year contract extension in February.
"We felt like all he needed was an opportunity," Titans coach Jeff Fisher said. "We gave it to him, he made the plays. That's what he did for us last year. A lot of big plays, a lot of tough catches. That's why it was important for us to re-sign him."
Jets running back Thomas Jones, who played with Gage in Chicago, couldn't be happier for his good friend even though they meet on Sunday when New York (7-3) visits Tennessee (10-0).
"Sometimes when people get a change of scenery, it bodes well for them. I think that was the situation with Justin, he just needed a change of scenery. I'm happy for him, and he's doing a really good job this year," Jones said in a conference call.
Gage can blame injuries for slowing him down this season. First, a groin injury forced him to miss a win Sept. 21 against Houston, then he sprained his right knee and sat out games against Baltimore and Kansas City with a bye in between. On his return, he managed only one catch in his first two games back.
"Mentally, I was telling myself I can do this and this. Physically, I couldn't get there," Gage said. "Finally, I feel like mentally and physically I'm at the same point on the same page. It definitely feels good."
Gage caught four passes in a win at Chicago with one for a TD, which he admitted felt good to silence some of his old critics.
But he was at his best with Kerry Collins in Jacksonville. They opened the game by connecting on a 47-yarder. In the third, Gage beat a defender down the sideline for the 56-yard TD that put the Titans ahead to stay. They clinched the victory with the 38-yard TD in which Gage turned around and caught the ball at the perfect moment before going into the end zone.
"He's really stepped up the past couple weeks," Collins said. "Obviously coming off the knee injury, he's kind of getting his feet back under him. He's definitely back to the 12-Gage that we all know. Really made a couple really great plays the other night ... so he's definitely getting back to form."
And yes, the guy who was a three-time All-Big 12 pick while at Missouri is enjoying himself, having gone from accomplishing his goals of reaching the NFL to playing in this league.
"Now I'm getting to live that dream," he said.