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The last time these two started a game against each other, Young conjured one of the most scintillating comeback victories in the history of college football, driving the Texas Longhorns 56 yards in less than two minutes and capturing the national championship against Leinart's USC Trojans in the 2006 Rose Bowl. Nearly four years and countless NFL career twists later, the two met once again on Sunday. This time, the buildup was vastly different, with Young rebuilding his career as the starter of the Tennessee Titans and Leinart filling in for Kurt Warner(notes), who was inactive with concussion issues.
But while the prologue was different, the story remained the same, with Young engineering an improbable 99-yard touchdown drive that captured a 20-17 victory on the final play of the game. Much like 2006, all Leinart could do was stand and watch as his team's 17-13 lead vanished before his very eyes. For Leinart, it was a solid game ending on a sour note. For Young, it was a seismic event. Yes, he had led the Titans to four straight wins after owner Bud Adams essentially forced him back into the starting lineup. But Sunday's 99-yard drive was unquestionably a seminal moment. Not every win defines a winner. However, this victory did just that.
If ever there were a moment that had the power to change the perception of a player, Young captured it against Arizona. He passed for 94 of the 99 yards, converted three fourth downs and used his feet to deftly commandeer extra time on his game-winning 10-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Britt(notes), which came with no time left on the game clock. Young established a career-high 387 passing yards in the process. And while all of those figures were impressive, what set this drive apart was what Young didn't do. He didn't panic. He didn't falter. He didn't lose poise.
What will be overlooked in that final drive is that Young changed when it mattered most. For much of the game, Arizona's defense had stressed containing Young and forcing him to be a pocket passer. They wanted him throwing and not using his feet to create opportunities. But at the end of the game, when Arizona's rush continually went after Young – when the Cardinals wanted him to burn time and use his feet rather than throw downfield – Young did the opposite. He stood pat in the face of the rush. He refused to waste much-needed clock and patiently threw for chunks of yardage at the sidelines. And when he was faced with pressure on his final throw, he negotiated the pocket and threw into a space that allowed Britt to jump for the ball and make a superb play.
Now, one game isn't going to quell the considerable doubts that Young created last season, when he seemed distant, mentally soft and disconnected from a veteran-laden locker room. But the current five-game winning streak and Sunday's remarkable drive have thrust Young back into a familiar position. Not only is he winning, but he's commanding. And as he has likely learned over the past two years, NFL quarterbacks can rarely have one without the other.
Here are some more Week 12 winners and losers:
• Buffalo Bills interim coach Perry Fewell
The Bills had every reason in the world to cave in with the firing of Dick Jauron, but they've responded and played hard for Fewell. He's said to favor Fred Jackson(notes) over Marshawn Lynch(notes), which, frankly, shows some independent thinking. There's still a chance he could land this job permanently since most of the big-name candidates out there don't seem to be enthralled with the Bills.
• Seattle Seahawks running back Justin Forsett(notes)
His quickness in space is rare, and you have to wonder if it will keep him in the starting lineup when Julius Jones(notes) returns. Forsett has 368 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns in his last three games as a starter, and one of those included a blowout against Minnesota in which he rushed for only nine yards. He's one of the few big-play bright spots on this offense in the second half of the season.
• Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel(notes)
His two interceptions late in the first half each led to field goals, which turned out to be vital down the stretch for the Eagles. He's now got 11 interceptions in 26 games for the Eagles, and has been one of the few free-agent cornerback signees who has consistently been worth his paycheck. Undoubtedly one of the few guys the New England Patriots regret letting get away.
• Atlanta Falcons quarterback Chris Redman(notes)
He's definitely one of the league's more underrated backups, having been pulled off the scrap heap by Atlanta in 2007. His 243 passing yards and two touchdowns against the Buccaneers were the difference for the banged-up Falcons. Some credit has to go to offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey and quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave, who both have a good amount of confidence in Redman, and didn't feel the need to go into a shell when Matt Ryan(notes) went down.
• The Indianapolis Colts
They've engineered five straight fourth-quarter comebacks now, which is both impressive and worrisome. At some point that is going to bite the Colts. But until it does, you have to tip your cap to Peyton Manning(notes), who has been brilliant in the final moments of games. Going into Sunday, his passer rating was 113.9 in fourth quarters, and 117.7 with two minutes remaining in a half. Suddenly, a 16-0 regular season is starting to look possible.
• The Cincinnati Bengals
With Larry Johnson(notes) looking fresh after sitting much of the last month and Bernard Scott(notes) continuing to show good burst, it looks like the Bengals could have three quality running backs down the stretch. That's if Cedric Benson(notes) can come back healthy after sitting out his second straight game with a hip injury. One thing the offense misses is Benson's nose for the goal line in the red zone. But with Detroit on the docket next week, he's got at least one more game to get healthy before his return becomes more vital.
• New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis(notes)
He held Carolina wideout Steve Smith to one catch for five yards and picked off two passes. Regardless of whether he had help with Randy Moss(notes) against the Patriots, there's little doubt anymore – Revis is the best cornerback in the NFL. And that six-year, $30 million contract that looked ridiculous for Revis' NFL draft slot in 2007 now looks amazingly equitable.
• The San Diego Chargers offense
The unit is healthy up front and in a groove. Coach Norv Turner has finally found roles for all of his pieces, with LaDainian Tomlinson(notes) becoming more potent inside the 10, and Darren Sproles(notes) being a factor between the 20s and in third-down passing situations. And with Malcolm Floyd and Antonio Gates(notes) catching everything thrown at them, the unit doesn't absolutely need the dominant downfield plays from Vincent Jackson(notes) to have big games. This is as good as any offense in the NFL.
• The San Francisco 49ers defense
This unit was in the face of Jaguars quarterback David Garrard(notes) all day long, sacking him six times and forcing him to fumble twice. The pressure was nasty in the red zone, too. Coach Mike Singletary was harping on the tackling, and his players responded, holding explosive Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew(notes) to 75 rushing yards and a long rush of 12 yards. This is what the unit looked like earlier this season.
• Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre(notes)
Maybe the best way to quantify Favre's year is by pointing out that Jared Allen(notes) may be the best defensive player in football and is getting remarkably little attention. Even running back Adrian Peterson is becoming a secondary topic. With 392 passing yards and three touchdowns against the Bears, it's time to start talking about Favre as league MVP. He is forcing Peyton Manning into a race. His 24 touchdowns to only three interceptions is exquisite.
• The Miami Dolphins
Their fourth quarter against Buffalo was ghastly. Chad Henne's(notes) first two of three interceptions led to 14 points, and the defense fell apart down the stretch. Every time you think this team is ready to turn the corner, it stumbles. And it's definitely not good to hear Bill Parcells' name popping up in Cleveland, particularly knowing new Dolphins owner Stephen Ross wasn't the guy who brought him into the franchise.
• The Tampa Bay Buccaneers running game
The offensive line isn't great, but this running game has suffered at least partially because the coaching staff keeps juggling the carries. Whether it's Derrick Ward(notes) or Cadillac Williams, rarely is a runner allowed to get into a groove from game to game. All of the backs lack an explosive element, too. Since Week 1, there has been only one run that has gone for longer than 20 yards.
• The Washington Redskins
The presence of Albert Haynesworth(notes) was badly missed as the Redskins allowed the Eagles to go 90 yards on the pivotal fourth-quarter drive that tied the score at 24. The unit folded up again when it allowed Philadelphia to drive for the game-clinching field goal. And maybe it's a function of Jason Campbell's(notes) flaws, but none of the young receivers look particularly explosive.
• Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub(notes)
There's something about Indianapolis that makes Houston quarterbacks fall all over themselves. Schaub wasn't terrible, but his back-to-back turnovers in the fourth quarter led to Colts touchdowns and contributed to Houston's meltdown. If the Texans are ever going to compete consistently with the Colts in the AFC South, Schaub must be the difference maker. Anyone else think Texans owner Bob McNair looked less than pleased on the sideline Sunday? Not a good sign for coach Gary Kubiak.
• The Cleveland Browns
Nose tackle Shaun Rogers(notes) was really one of the few remaining indispensible players left on the roster entering Sunday. With his knee injury requiring him to be carted off and looking fairly serious, his loss would effectively gut the defense. Losing Rogers on top of D'Qwell Jackson(notes) earlier in the season almost makes you feel sorry for coach Eric Mangini.
• Carolina Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme(notes)
His four picks against the Jets give him five multi-interception games in 11 outings this season. Some of his passes against the Jets were unbelievable. It looked like he was playing slow-pitch softball and floating underhanded passes – in a game where the Meadowlands' wind wasn't a factor. It's time to start looking at A.J. Feeley(notes) or Matt Moore(notes). The Panthers have lost seven games and are effectively out of the NFC playoff race. Delhomme should be done as the starter.
• The Kansas City Chiefs
Sunday's blowout loss to San Diego hurt because the coaching staff was starting to believe the Chiefs were ready to at least compete on a four-quarter basis. Obviously, that didn't happen. Three fumbles turned into San Diego touchdowns, and the Chiefs couldn't cope with their own mistakes. The defense did a good job of taking Vincent Jackson away, but allowed Antonio Gates (seven catches, 118 yards, two TDs) to gouge them in the seams. The Chiefs still have a lot of work to do just to stay in games with good teams, let alone win them.
• The Jacksonville Jaguars pass rush
There is a reason why the Jaguars have the worst pass rush in the NFL. They lack both consistency and explosiveness. It's saying something when your best defensive player is a 335-pound defensive tackle (John Henderson(notes)). Regardless of whether Jacksonville is going to stick with the 3-4 alignment, pure outside pass rushers are a must this offseason.
• The Arizona Cardinals
Considering Kurt Warner was out and it was on the road against a hot Tennessee team, Sunday wasn't a bad loss. For the most part, the Cardinals did what they needed to do to win, and backup Matt Leinart (21-of-31, 220 yards) was solid. LaRod Stephens-Howling(notes) was fantastic on special teams. The reason this one really hurts is because the Cardinals had a long shot to stay in the race for the No. 2 seed. With four losses, they are pretty much out of it now.
• The Chicago Bears offensive line
People are going to continue to whine about quarterback Jay Cutler(notes) (18-of-23, 147 yards, one TD, two INTs) but he had a solid day other than one poorly thrown pass in the end zone. The offensive line is a mess. Orlando Pace(notes) had his lunch served to him by Minnesota's Jared Allen all day long. If Allen wasn't sacking Cutler, he was pushing Pace into him and disrupting the play. This team's two top priorities should be finding Cutler a left tackle and more receiver help.
(FIVE THINGS I LOVED AND FIVE THINGS I LOATHED)
Loved: Seeing ESPN's Merril Hoge step out and talk about the concussion that ended his career, and dealing with post-concussion syndrome. Hoge talked about his heart stopping in the training room, going to intensive care, being confined to his home for six weeks and having to learn to read again. Every player should see the segment. It would help diminish the number of players who hide their concussions.
Loathed: The NFL Network's pregame show. I've given up on it. Other than the network's ability to go around the league and give updates from the site of every game, there just isn't enough substance. The chaotic arguing of the in-studio crew isn't entertaining.
Loved: The 31-yard touchdown run by Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. It was shocking to see him outrun some defenders who should have had an angle on him. I still don't think he's an NFL starting-caliber quarterback, but you can see he's got a little playmaking in him. If he could eliminate some of his turnovers, he could be a solid backup quarterback for a long time, a la Ty Detmer.
Loathed: The Eagles' failed onside kick to open the game against Washington. It was a terrible decision. It's one thing to do it after halftime when you know the flow of the game and can better calculate risk vs. reward. But to do it at the beginning of a contest is reckless and unnecessary.
Loved: Texans running back Steve Slaton's(notes) ball security. He ran hard against the Colts, and he put a hammerlock on the ball every time he went into a crowd. Head coach Gary Kubiak deserves a nod for sitting Slaton until the problem could be corrected.
Loathed: Seeing Atlanta's Matt Ryan and Michael Turner(notes) suffer game-ending injuries. The Falcons have been snake-bitten all season long, and it has undermined what should have been a season of significant growth.
Loved: The speed of the Texans linebackers. They obliterated the Colts' stretch play in the red zone early in the third quarter, before Indianapolis eventually scored on Reggie Wayne's(notes) four-yard touchdown catch. There are a lot of areas that have to get more consistent on Houston's defense, but the Texans don't have to worry about getting big plays out of the linebackers – particularly DeMeco Ryans(notes) and Brian Cushing(notes).
Loathed: Seeing Browns coach Eric Mangini going off on the referees at the end of the first half against the Bengals. Mangini appeared to be upset at a 15-yard penalty on a horse collar tackle of Carson Palmer(notes) that put Cincinnati in range for a long field goal with no time left on the clock. I can't imagine what Mangini could have been arguing about; the penalty on Shaun Rogers was clear as day. Maybe he's trying to show owner Randy Lerner anything he can to save his job.
Loved: The Bengals offensive line. The running backs get the attention, but as a unit, the Bengals overwhelm teams at the line of scrimmage. The size and agility of this unit is impressive. And it should get only better as Andre Smith(notes) gets worked into the remaining games.
Loathed: Seeing Carolina's Jake Delhomme throw in the direction of Darrelle Revis. You could see Revis' two-interception day coming all week long. It's hard to advocate writing off a playmaker like Steve Smith, but with Revis involved, the Panthers would have been better served using him as a decoy all day long.