Kerry Collins spent most of the season waiting for a chance to prove he could still play.
Last night, with a playoff spot at stake, Tennessee's backup quarterback delivered the biggest win of the season.
He led the Titans to three second-half field goals, including a 54-yarder from Rob Bironas to retake the lead in a 16-10 victory over host Indianapolis (13-3) that left Tennessee celebrating and Cleveland grimacing. The Titans visit San Diego next Sunday.
The Titans (10-6) had to win to make the playoffs for the first time since 2003. A loss would have given Cleveland its first playoff berth since 2002.
And when Peyton Manning left after two series, things looked good for the Titans.
Instead, the offense bogged down after a touchdown drive on the game's opening series. When Vince Young left in the third quarter with a right quadriceps injury, Tennessee appeared to be in trouble.
Collins replaced Young in the middle of a 13-play, 56-yard drive that ended with Bironas' tying 40-yard field goal late in the third quarter.
"That's life as a backup. You never know when you'll go in," Collins said. "I hope Vince is all right."
He moved the Titans 58 yards in 12 plays, setting up Bironas for the go-ahead field goal. Like last December, when Bironas hit a 60-yarder to beat Indy in Nashville, Bironas curled the 54-yarder inside the right goal post for a 13-10 lead. He finally sealed the win with a 33-yarder with 2:56 to go.
It was enough to end Indy's 10-game home winning streak against AFC South foes, although it came primarily against Colts backups.
Coach Tony Dungy used the game as a tuneup for Indy's playoff opener Jan. 13, benching most of his offensive starters after two series and his defensive starters in the second half.
But Manning and Reggie Wayne played just long enough to reach their milestones.
Manning entered the game needing 55 yards to extend his NFL record of most 4,000-yard seasons to eight. That took one series.
Pro Bowl receiver Wayne needed eight catches to become the second Colt with 100 receptions in a season. That took two series. Wayne also needed 71 yards to pass Randy Moss for the league title in yards receiving. He did that on Indy's third series.
Meanwhile, as their turnaround season ended inside a dome hundreds of miles away, the Browns could only watch - and wonder.
The Browns, who won just four games last season, were left out of the AFC playoffs after the Titans clinched the final wild-card spot,
Sure, they'll spend the winter reflecting on a season few thought possible. But the Browns (10-6), who beat the San Francisco 49ers 20-7 in their home finale, will also consider what might have been if they hadn't thrown away a game in Cincinnati last week, a loss that cost them a postseason berth. *