Titans quarterback Vince Young led Patriots rising rookie David Thomas and the rest of the '05 Longhorns to the Rose Bowl last year, where they defeated the USC Trojans 41-38. In that national championship game, Young ran for 200 yards and connected on 30-of-40 passes (including 10 to Thomas) for 257 yards. The win not only marked Texas' first national title in 35 years, it was the culmination of a 20-game winning streak that had begun in the 2004 season.
"I'd say I think the biggest thing is he's a winner," said Belichick of Young's attributes. "He's a winner. He's made plays to make Tennessee win, whether it be in overtime, passing, scrambling.
"I think [winning is] part of the whole package. There are other guys who come from winning programs and haven't been particularly good NFL players. I don't think that guarantees anything, but it goes along with a lot of other things that he has. I think the total player is a very good one."
Belichick couldn't be more right about Young knowing how to win. He's led the Titans to six straight wins entering this game, posting an 8-4 record while contributing a rushing or passing touchdown in 11 of his first 12 NFL starts. So far, Young's completed 169-of-321 passes for 1,972 yards, 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He also has 81 rushing attempts for 523 yards and six touchdowns, making him the first rookie quarterback in NFL history to rush for 500 yards.
"I wish I could run half his speed. I think he's probably two times as fast as me," said Tom Brady on Wednesday, with a tinge of hyperbole coloring his voice. "And for a big guy, he's so elusive. You watch Michael Vick run, and Michael Vick is a special runner, but Vince is a special runner too. He can really avoid people. Winning that game against Houston in overtime, winning his game against Buffalo on a long scramble, it's pretty cool to watch him make guys miss. Usually quarterbacks aren't the most athletic guys, but when you find guys at that position who are athletic, who can make a bunch of plays with their feet, they're fun to watch."
Young was given the starting job after 12-year veteran Kerry Collins, who played through September, didn't post a quarterback rating better than 57.6 in the first three weeks of the season.
"They've certainly adapted their offense to fit him through the course of the year and a lot of things that he does now they definitely weren't doing when Kerry Collins was playing quarterback," said Belichick. "There are things that are pretty unconventional that most teams in the league don't do, run options and run double digit bootlegs in each game and things like that. There are a lot of plays that are designed for him to run, just like you would design for a running back."
The Titans have a chance to become the first team in NFL history to open the season 0-5 and still finish 9-7. A win over the Patriots stands in their way.
"We're going to approach this game just like we approach all the rest of them," Belichick said. " I don't know how else to put it."
With much of the playoff seeding still up in the air, the Patriots are taking this game seriously. They've clinched a playoff berth, obviously, but that doesn't mean the starters will be pulled if the Patriots gain the upper hand. That's because in six of Young's eight wins this season, the Titans have come from behind. Two of those comeback victories were from deficits of 14 points or more.
"I think the biggest thing that he's done is manage the game and win games and that's a tribute to playing good situational football at the end of the games," explained Belichick. "They've been in a lot of tight games and they've found a way to win them. I think a lot of that has to do with the quarterback. He helps set up a lot of things in the running game because of his ability to run the ball and run bootlegs and all of that."
Young raised eyebrows this season when he led the Titans to one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history against the New York Giants in Week 12.
Down 21-0 with 10 minutes remaining in the game, Young completed 13-of-18 attempts, passing for 130 yards and two touchdowns. He also had five rushing attempts for 45 yards and a touchdown. The 24-21 victory was the first time a rookie quarterback accounted for three touchdowns in a comeback win since John Elway did it in his rookie year (1983). Young was less than a year old when Elway was a rookie.
The Titans are red hot right now with Young leading the team to an 8-2 record in the last 10 games. The only team in the NFL with a better record over that span is the Chargers, who've gone 9-1 during that time. Young's impressive play has him in the running for Rookie of the Year, but he says he's trying not to think about that right now.
"The (Rookie of the Year) race is very intense right now," said Young on Wednesday. "You have a lot of great guys out there right now doing a lot of great things for their teams. I just want to finish the season off and let who ever makes that vote make that vote."
Notes:Practice was held inside the Dana Farber Field House today, and the players wore sweats, helmets and shells. Receiver Jabar Gaffney wore a black jersey at practice, indicating that he was the Practice Player of the Week leading up to the Jaguars game. Defensive lineman Vince Wilfork and tight end Benjamin Watson were spotted at practice (their firsts since the Miami game) during the portion available to the media, but Brady was not. … Today in his weekly press conference, Brady indicated that his shoulder was sore (but not seriously injured) from a hard hit he took on a 7-yard first-down scramble in the game, saying, "It's just, you know, you take a good hit on it, it's always probably a little bit sore, but I'm doing a lot better. I'm doing a lot better than I was a couple of days ago." He stepped out for a play after the hit, letting backup QB Matt Cassel relieve him, though a penalty was called so he didn't miss an official snap. … Safety Rodney Harrison took time to speak with the media in the locker room about breaking his scapula in the Colts game, and about his good friend Junior Seau, who was placed on IR while Harrison was recovering. He said he didn't feel any pain during the Jaguars game, and he also said he was glad to return before the playoffs. He turned 34 while he was sidelined with the injury, but plans on continuing to play after this season. "I feel like a kid still," he said, also mentioning that he believes Seau (who'll be 38 next month) isn't too old to play.