Jeff Fisher meant it as a compliment. Listing one of the many attributes he admired in his 35-year-old quarterback, the Tennessee Titans coach said of Kerry Collins: “He has a short memory.”
But has Collins been able to erase the eight-year-old memory of the 2001 Super Bowl and the the four interceptions he threw to the Baltimore Ravens as the quarterback for the New York Giants?
And will that nightmare come back to haunt him again come Saturday afternoon, when the Titans host the Ravens in the AFC semifinal round?
“It was a long time ago,” Collins said earlier this week. “I didn’t play well. It was a tough day. But I feel like I’ve still got a lot of good football in me.”
By almost every measuring stick except a fantasy football scoresheet, Collins has had one of the finest seasons of his career. Forced into the Titans’ starting lineup in Week 2 after an injury and personal problems sent Vince Young to the bench, Collins oversaw a 10-0 start that became a 13-3 final record, the best in the AFC.
His 12 touchdown passes to eight interceptions may not make him an All-Pro, but it was all Fisher could have asked for.
“When you have a veteran quarterback that understands the players around him, he’ll take advantage of his teammates,” said Fisher. “It has certainly served him this year in a lot of unusual situations that we faced throughout the season. Kerry’s experience has served him very, very well.”
No one had less reason to embrace Collins than tight end Bo Scaife, who starred at Texas with Young and considers the third-year quarterback his closest friend on the Titans.
Yet Scaife said of Collins, “He’s stepped up from day one and done the job. You hate it when bad things happen to people you care about, and Vince is like a brother to me. But I’ve also got a job to do and a family to feed, and Kerry always puts the passes in a good spot. He throws a nice ball, and he doesn’t lead you into taking many hits.”
Running back LenDale White said similar things to the Baltimore Sun on Tuesday, telling that paper, “If we’re not lined up, he can stop it and make sure everyone is in the perfect spot. Not saying that Vince doesn’t do that, but Kerry has been around a long time, he’s been to a Super Bowl…he’s done a lot of things in his career.”
What he hasn’t done is master the Ravens defense, despite guiding the Titans to a fourth-quarter touchdown drive in October that nipped Baltimore 13-10. Even then he threw two interceptions to just one touchdown and needed a personal foul penalty against the Ravens to keep alive the winning drive.
“We had to put something together, and (Kerry) completed a lot of passes,” said White, recalling that drive at Baltimore. “Kerry always has the faith.”
But does he have the tools to ground the Ravens in the playoffs?
“You live and learn,” Collins said. “I’ve had eight years to live and learn, so hopefully, I’m better off than I was.”
Otherwise, this storybook season could become a long, bitter memory for the Titans.