When forced to throw, Kerry Collins delivered, completing 30-of-41 passes for 289 yards and 2 TDs.
In Sunday's 21-14 victory over the Bears, the Titans proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that they do not have a one-dimensional offense.
When offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger told reporters after the game that he and the rest of the Titans' coaching staff "have all the faith in the world in Kerry," he wasn't just offering a trite compliment to make his quarterback feel better. They know they have a superb veteran passer who can, if necessary, consistently win games through the air. They know they have someone with outstanding field vision, with the skill to throw accurately on deep and short routes, and with the poise to handle the pressure of delivering big plays at crunch time.
But by running their way to an 8-0 start (not to mention an 11-game winning streak dating back to last season), the Titans created a perception that they only could move the ball on the ground. In the process, they reinforced the false notion that Collins is little more than a game-managing quarterback who stays out of the way while the NFL's sixth-ranked rushing attack and fifth-ranked defense do all of the heavy lifting.
Eventually, someone was going to put that approach to the litmus test and force the Titans to demonstrate whether they had the flaw that so many skeptics believed would prevent them from reaching and/or winning the Super Bowl.
Soldier Field served as a perfect laboratory because it provided Collins and the Titans a hostile atmosphere to overcome and is home to one of the NFL's best run defenses. By putting eight and sometimes nine men at the line of scrimmage, the Bears eliminated what was presumably the Titans' greatest offensive asset by holding LenDale White and Chris Johnson to a combined 22 yards on 24 carries. There was nowhere for White to go inside and no corners for Johnson to turn and utilize his incredible speed in the open field.
It was up to Collins to make the difference with his right arm, and he did. He threw 41 times, something your basic "game manager" would never be permitted to do if he didn't have the trust of his coaches. The fact he completed 30 passes for 289 yards and two touchdowns reflected every bit as well on him as it did on the Titans' much-maligned receiving corps.
No, Tennessee doesn't have a classic game-breaker on the outside. It does, however, have the capacity to exploit the middle of the field when opponents overload to stop the run and opposing cornerbacks are able to prevent Justin McCareins and Justin Gage from shaking free on the perimeter. Just as they have done in most of their recent games, the Titans made tight end Bo Scaife the focus of their passing attack against the Bears, and Collins connected with him 10 times for 78 yards and a score. Collins also worked the middle in completing eight passes to Brandon Jones for 82 yards.
In all, he hooked up with seven different receivers, a clear sign that the Titans are comfortable with using a balanced passing game to take the place of a power-oriented scheme when needed. As stubborn as he might often seem when it comes to running the ball, Heimerdinger is always willing to adjust each game plan depending on the opponent. Working with a quarterback who usually delivers throws on target and on time according to the designed play, the receivers trust that all they have to do is get to the right place when they're supposed to and make the catch.
It's the same sort of mentality that can be found on teams with quarterbacks who are better known for their passing prowess -- such as the Colts, with Peyton Manning, and the Giants, with Eli Manning.
And it has a chance of coming into play several more times through the final seven weeks of the regular season.
One is Sunday, when the Titans travel to Jacksonville, which overcame plenty of internal turmoil to give an inspired showing against Detroit on Sunday and only lost by a touchdown in the season-opener at Tennessee. Another is in Week 12, when the Jets and massive nose tackle Kris Jenkins visit LP Field. Yet another is on Dec. 21, when the Steelers bring the No. 2 run defense to Nashville. Then, of course, there's the season finale against the Colts, at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Colts hardly are known for having a run-stuffing defense, but they did an excellent job of slamming the door on Pittsburgh's ground game Sunday.
Somewhere in those games -- or perhaps at other times when it is unexpected -- the Titans will need Collins to carry them with his passing arm.
There is every reason to believe he will.