Con-Vince-ing Performance: Vince Young's Leadership of Titans Cannot Be Denied

LVCorrespondent INovember 30, 2009

NASHVILLE, TN - NOVEMBER 29:  Vince Young #10 of the Tennessee Titans runs with the ball against the Arizona Cardinals during their game at LP Field on November 29, 2009 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

After Vince Young’s breakout career-high 387-yard passing performance in the Tennessee Titans' last-second 20-17 win over the Arizona Cardinals, including throwing the game-winner with no time left on the clock, everyone needs to a look back in time to a crucial moment earlier this season.

Let’s go back to Week Seven of the 2009 NFL season. The Titans were on their bye week after enduring probably the most humiliating loss in the NFL this season in Week Six, a 59-0 pummeling by the New England Patriots.

In the disastrous loss that took the former 2008 AFC South champs (13-3) to the depths of being called “The Most Disappointing Team in the NFL”—sixth straight loss to open the season—a possible light switch clicked in the head of Titans head coach Jeff Fisher.

After former Titans starting quarterback Kerry Collins had one of the worst performances of any starting quarterback in NFL history (finishing with passing numbers 2-of-12 for minus-seven yards, one INT, and a QB rating of 4.9—probably the lowest ever), late in the game, Fisher decided to insert the 2006 NFL Rookie of the Year, QB Vince Young, into the game.

Young had not played much before that game in the snow because he had lost his “swagger” in 2008 due to some well-documented problems during and after the Titans’ season opener and quickly became a footnote as the Titans rose to the playoffs under Collins. All during the 2008 season, Young had endured arrows that he was too sullen and selfish to be the leader of the Titans again.

But in the cold, ice, and snow of New England that day (Oct. 18), Young clearly started to heat up. He became a team-first player as he swallowed his ego and pride to enter a no-win situation in a blowout game gone awry. He finished with pedestrian numbers: 0-of-2 for zero yards and one INT plus two rushes for minus-one yard.

V.Y.’s numbers in New England that day didn’t even matter after he showed some long-awaited maturity. With questions swirling around the Titans’ sinking ship at the time and Collins underperforming, before the cameras in the locker room after the humiliating loss, Young basically said “I will do anything that the coaching staff and team asks of me.”

Those words sounded very cliché at the time, but Young was very serious that he just wanted the opportunity to show that he was still the same player who led the University of Texas to the 2005 National Championship. The third overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft just wanted a chance to show that he was still a playmaker in the NFL and not the perceived malcontent potential bust that many were painting him to be.

While many pointed to his 2008 struggles and poor performance against the Patriots as signs that Young would soon be on another team in 2010, a small contingent, including yours truly, said give the former college football legend a “legitimate” shot to prove he could still lead the Titans once again.

During the Titans' time away to heal during their Week Seven bye, many were wondering when Fisher would give V.Y. a chance to give the team a much-needed spark. To be honest with you, why not, considering that many NFL talking heads had predicted that the Titans’ 2009 campaign was already over.

However, Fisher continued to be coy and still talked about Collins (completed 54.8 percent of his passes with five TDs and eight INTs) as the Titans' man under center.

Then stepped in the one man whose opinion matters more than Fisher’s when it comes to the Tennessee Titans. Owner Bud Adams made it clear he wanted Young to replace Collins.

“I have been wanting (Fisher) to play Vince Young more because Collins has been having his problems out there,” Adams said. “I just think we need to find out how well (Young) can do.”

Fisher finally relented when he saw that the new and improved Young was looking like his former mentor and hero, the late Steve McNair, in practices and in the locker room. Young had his head in the playbook and his feet firmly on the ground as he embraced possibly his last chance to be the Titans' starting quarterback.

Some doubted Young, but I knew the player that I had interviewed way back during the 2005 Heisman presentation—competitive fire burning in his eyes —had the gumption to show the world that he was still a “winner.” Young had won at every level he had ever played in from high school to college to the NFL (18-11 in 29 starts at the time), and now it was time to remind everyone.

Even after the Houston, Texas native led the Titans to a 30-13 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week Eight for Tennessee’s first victory of the 2009 season, there were no “I told you so” moments from the now humble quarterback. Young stayed grounded and kept marching on from there, and it didn’t matter that he had just endured 22 games without starting. 

Fast-forward to Week 12 in Tennessee. The Titans are down by a score of 17-13 late in the fourth quarter to the NFC West-leading Arizona Cardinals and have 99 yards to cover with only two minutes and 37 seconds left on the clock.

Sure, Young had led the Titans to four straight wins over the past four weeks, including a Monday night thriller over the Houston Texans in Week 11, but this was too much of a daunting task for V.Y....right.

In the final moments, Young answered his critics with not only his legs, but his arm and mind as well. Young (27-of-43, 387 YDS, one TD, and no INTs) capped off an 18-play, 99-yard drive with a 10-yard touchdown pass to leaping rookie receiver Kenny Britt in the back of the end zone as time expired.

The impressive part of the game-winning drive was the determination of the Titans’ starter. Young (23-11 as an NFL starter) completed 10 of 16 passes for 94 yards and ran for another five while converting three fourth downs on the drive, including the winning touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the Cardinals’ 10.

It must have been deja vu all over again for Cardinals starter Matt Leinart, who had lost the 2006 Rose Bowl to Young when they were both college hot shots for USC and Texas respectively, as No. 10 left the field with another comeback victory in his hands.

Young had just won his ninth consecutive start going back to 2007, and he is now a perfect 5-0 as the Titans' starter this season. But as the Titans’ new unquestioned leader pointed out after the game, it was a huge “team” win.

“As the Tennessee Titans, I feel we fought to the finish,” Young said. Indeed, it was a miraculous win for a franchise that has seem some great finishes.

An almost stunned Fisher said in his post-game press conference, “You guys don’t mind if I sit down and do this, do you? OK. WOW! What a great finish! We’ve had some finishes around here, but I can’t remember one like that. Just a tremendous finish.”

The Titans are now 5-6 and right in the middle of the AFC’s wild card hunt—remaining games @IND, STL, MIA, SD, and @SEA—after almost no one but themselves thought they were still in the race.

Young, RB Chris Johnson (his performance during the Titans’ five-game winning streak cannot also be forgotten—on a pace for over 2,000 yards rushing), and a rejuvenated defense have led the Titans back into contention, and it will be an interesting finish in Nashville.

However, you won’t hear Young pounding his chest over the last-second win over the Cardinals or any of the other Titans’ four wins during their current winning streak. I will for him...“Ha, ha, ha...told you so.” But you cannot deny the spark and energy that V.Y. has provided a team that was formerly on life support this season. 

“I thought Vince played great,” Leinart said after the game. “He made plays in that last series, so hats off to him. I thought our defense played phenomenally; he just made some plays.”

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA).