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Cortland Finnegan Loses Fight, Gains Mental Edge On Andre Johnson

Patrick Crawley |
November 29, 2010 | 12:05 p.m. PST

Senior Sports Editor

The decision was unanimous, both in Reliant Stadium and on Twitter: Andre Johnson kicked Cortland Finnegan's ass on Sunday.

There were no judges to keep score, no ref to declare knockout. Still, video evidence shows the 6-foot-3 receiver dominated the fight, tossing Finnegan to the ground and landing two hard shots (one to the head) before the two were separated.

It wasn't close -- even the staunchest Titans supporter would say Finnegan got run. Johnson landed the most punches (3-0) and asserted his dominance. He treated Finnegan like a Doberman treats its chew toy.

Still, I can't shake the feeling that it was Finnegan, not Johnson, who won the fight.

Mental advantages are sometimes more important than physical ones, and it's clear Finnegan is in Johnson's head.

Why else would he go after Finnegan with the Texans up 17-0?

The fight is an extension of a pre-existing animosity between the two -- an animosity likely instigated by Finnegan, one of the league's most notorious pests. They had their first run-in last season in Week 2 of last season, when Johnson pulled Finnegan's face mask and recevied a $7,500 fine. Now this.

We see it all the time in the NBA: Team A can't stop Team B's superstar, so they send a pesky defender at the star to get under his skin.

Typically, it doesn't work, as anyone who saw Michael Jordan destroy Bryon Russell in 1998 can attest to, but sometimes it does -- usually when the defender strikes a nerve and the star can't handle it.

That appears to be the case with Johnson. 

Somewhere between the trash talking and shoving, he lost his cool. He had enough. He boiled over. He went after Finnegan like an enraged hockey enforcer.

And while the crowd cheered the emotional explosion (Johnson received a standing ovation from the home crowd after being ejected), Finnegan was likely celebrating as well.

Not only did he eliminate Houston's biggest receiving threat from a game that was arguably still winnable (the Titans were down 17 with 7:39 left in the fourth), he also gained a psychological advantage. The fight marks the second time he's been able to instigate Johnson into doing something he wouldn't normally do.

Finnegan's antics bring out the worst in Johnson. He said so himself after the game.

"What happened out there today was not me," Johnson said. "I just lost my cool and I wish that I could take back what happened, but I can't. It's over and done with now."

Comments like that are music to the ears of a professional irritator. It's Finnegan's job to irritate opposing players and he obviously has his hooks in Johnson.

Even though the Texans' star receiver wasn't suspended for the altercation, he lost a mental edge. And it's not clear whether he'll be able to get that back or not.

When the teams play again on Dec. 19, the focus isn't going to be on Johnson's on-field performance. It's going to be on his budding feud with the Titans' DB.

And what happens when Finnegan resorts to his usual tricks? Will Johnson take the bait again? Will he lose patience and let it affect his performance on the field? If history is any indication, likely so. 

Which is why Finnegan is the winner of Sunday's fight in my eyes.

He may have a taken a beating on the field and in the court of public perception, but he also took Johnson out of his game. If the Titans beat the Texans Week 15, I think that will prove to be the bigger victory.

To reach editor Patrick Crawley, click here. Follow him on Twitter at @BasketballFiend.



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