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Young turns critics into believers

Nobody had to convince LenDale White the guy was for real. He's been a believer since last January, when he stood helplessly on the sideline and watched Vince Young torch his Southern California team for 267 yards passing and 200 yards rushing in the Rose Bowl while leading Texas to the national championship.

It was among the greatest big-game performances in college football history. Young had three touchdowns that game, including an 8-yard scramble with 19 seconds remaining to cap the winning drive and a 41-38 victory over Southern California. The only thing that left White, now Young's Tennessee Titans teammate, more stunned was the ridiculous criticism of Young that followed.

Scouts moaned about his arm, complained that he relied too much on his legs to become a successful NFL quarterback. He bombed the Wonderlic test, which is designed to somehow measure players' intelligence. It looks like the real dummies were his hometown Houston Texans, who passed on him with the first pick overall.

"Going into the draft, everybody said he couldn't throw," White said Sunday. "They said Matt Leinart would be better. They said Jay Cutler would be better. Vince drops back and throws the ball as well as anybody. Anybody who doubted Vince Young needs to open their eyes and realize he's for real."

Yeah, he's for real.

You don't hear anybody whining about Young's awkward throwing motion or low test scores nowadays. The only score that matters to the Titans is the one at the end of the game. Young has won six straight games and eight of his past 10 starts. He hasn't just passed the true test of a QB. He's become valedictorian and president of the NFL Draft Class of 2006.

"The sky is the limit for Vince Young," White said. "He should definitely be the rookie of the year. There should be nobody competing with that. We find a way to win, and usually it's because of him and how gifted he is."

Young helped the Titans win their fifth straight game by seven points or less, this time a 30-29 victory over the Buffalo Bills. It would have been ludicrous after the Titans lost their first five games to suggest they would be in playoff contention going into the final week of the season, but Young has turned everybody into believers.

The rookie's latest step toward greatness was a performance that justified the price of admission even if it meant a disappointing exit for a Christmas Eve crowd at The Ralph.

All anybody needed to see Sunday was the play Young made on the Titans' last play of the first half, a sign of a quarterback coming of age.

The Titans faced fourth-and-2 with 14 seconds remaining on the Bills' 36-yard line, a distance Buffalo would ultimately confirm too long for a field-goal attempt into a fierce wind. Young rolled left, looked long, pumped and began a memorable journey through the Bills' defense.

Once he was in the secondary, you knew he was gone. He sliced through the middle behind three blockers, cut right, back left and breezed into the end zone. If it seemed like he had done that before, well, he had. Two weeks earlier, he abandoned the pocket in overtime and raced 39 yards for the winning score to beat the Texans, reopening a deep wound in Houston.

"He's like a man among boys whenever he uses his speed," receiver Brandon Jones said. "Every week, he does something amazing. I can't believe some of the things he does. It's great to have a quarterback you can revolve around because you know he's going to make something happen."

Young didn't just hurt the Bills with his legs. He completed 13 of 20 passes for 183 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He threw a 32-yard strike to Jones into a stiff wind in the second quarter, which set up a field goal. He made a tight, third-down throw on the final drive while methodically directing the Titans to the winning kick.

The threat of him leaving the pocket opened up the running game for Travis Henry when Tennessee needed it most. All told, Young didn't look like a runner who happened to play quarterback. He looked like a quarterback with the ability to run. He did what was required to win.

"I'm a quarterback," he said. "Anybody who says that I'm not, I don't care. All that matters to me is that I'm moving the ball down the field. At the end of the four quarters, and you see 0:00, that's all that matters to me."

The critics had it completely backward. Young is not Michael Vick, as some feared. He's more like another great passer blessed with similar mobility, a guy once known for his legs who entered the Hall of Fame with his arm and his head.

Yes, he looked like Steve Young.

e-mail: bgleason@buffnews.com

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