Growing pains a reality for VY in 2nd year at helm of Titans
By: By TERESA M. WALKER, AP Sports Writer
NASHVILLE (AP) — Vince Young insisted to every questioner he had no fear of the rumored Madden video game cover jinx. Turns out he didn’t have immunity from the growing pains of an NFL quarterback in his second season.
Call it the sophomore slump.
Unlike 2006 when Young won the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award with his highlight-worthy comebacks and magical plays, his touchdown numbers are down, his interceptions are up. He has struggled deciding when to throw or run and at times tried too hard to make something happen.
Veteran receiver Eric Moulds said every quarterback has to learn how to play and win games in the NFL.
“I think Vince is going to come to that scenario. It’s not going to happen overnight,” Moulds said Wednesday. “You have to realize that football is a team sport. Even though he’s a great quarterback, it’s going to take 11 guys to make plays.”
The only stat coach Jeff Fisher is interested in is his Titans’ record. At 9-6, they can clinch their first playoff berth since 2003 with a win Sunday night at Indianapolis (13-2).
“He’s started all but one game this year. We have to win one to get in the playoffs. So I think that speaks for itself as far as his development,” Fisher said.
“He’s had some games where he’s lit it up statistically, and he’s had some other games where we didn’t have to lean on him. He’s managed the game as our starting quarterback, and we’re about to reach our No. 1 goal this year with him as the starter, and that’s to get to the playoffs.”
Young is 224-of-364 for 2,389 yards and nine touchdowns but has 17 interceptions. He also has had trouble holding onto the ball with 10 fumbles. The Titans have lost three of those.
He leads all quarterbacks with 376 yards rushing this season and needs 72 yards to reach 1,000 yards rushing in his career. He missed the Oct. 21 win in Houston with a strained right quadriceps but is 16-11 as a starter — 7-2 in December.
Young said he feels like he’s where he needs to be concluding his second season. He credited teammates like Moulds with giving him confidence and feedback as he works to improve.
“People still fail to realize I’m in my second year. I’m taking real big steps each week … That means I’m doing something right, so I want to keep doing that so I can continue to take my game to a level where I want it to be at,” Young said.
Young’s completion percentage is up 10 points to 61.5 percent. But he won’t come close to the 19 combined TDs of 2006.
The first rookie quarterback in NFL history to lead two comebacks of 14 points or more led the Titans to five fourth-quarter comebacks. This season? Not one. It was LenDale White who helped ice last weekend’s 10-6 win over the New York Jets with three runs.
Young’s part? He got to kneel down a series after having to recover his own fumble.
He had a chance Sept. 16 against Indianapolis only to see a catchable pass missed by receiver Brandon Jones. The Colts smothered Young on the next play to end the would-be rally for a 22-20 win.
Manning had a chance to visit with Young at the Pro Bowl when he became the first rookie quarterback to play in that game. Manning said Young’s athletic ability is absolutely impressive and called him a good guy.
“It seems like he’s got the right perspective on it — as a young quarterback, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Every game you can learn something new,” Manning said.
Young’s roller-coaster season can be seen in the past two games. He posted his season-high passer rating of 109.6 on Dec. 16 in a win at Kansas City, then struggled in last week’s 10-6 win over the New York Jets, who sacked him three times and forced him into two turnovers.
Fisher has had to defend his quarterback several times this season from questions about Young’s emotional displays. The coach’s answer? He likes Young’s competitiveness.
Colts middle linebacker Gary Brackett thinks Young has been hot and cold.
“We know this is the type of game he’ll be trying to take over. He can hurt you with his arm, with his legs, and we know they’re going to treat this like a playoff game, so we have to be ready to play well,” Brackett said.
Young has been at his best under the night lights.
The guy who beat Southern California for the national championship had his first two-TD game at night in New Orleans on Sept. 24 and his first 300-yard passing game Nov. 19 in prime-time at Denver. The Titans lost, but Young finished with a career-best 379 total yards.
Indianapolis coach Tony Dungy warned his Colts that this will be the Titans’ first playoff game, and he expects to see Young at his best.
“I’m sure he is going to rise to the occasion and do everything he can. I told them to expect a Rose Bowl-type performance where he takes it upon himself to will the team to victory,” Dungy said.
With a playoff berth on the line, that would be a strong finish for the quarterback.
AP Sports Writer Michael Marot in Indianapolis contributed to this story.