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Young's statement game spins sad tale for Giants

The Baltimore Sun

A sack that wasn't, an interception that should never have been thrown, a comeback for the ages.

The almost-sack was Mathias Kiwanuka's, the interception belonged to Eli Manning and the comeback was all Vince Young.

It added up to one of the most shocking finishes in the NFL this season. Young brought the Tennessee Titans back from a 21-0 deficit in the final 10 minutes and sent the New York Giants reeling into next week's critical NFC East showdown against the Dallas Cowboys in a state of incredulity.

The Titans' improbable 24-21 win in Nashville served as a statement game for Young, the third pick in last April's draft, in only his eighth NFL start. It spoke volumes about his ability to lift a team out of dire straits. It said even more about the NFC. More on that later.

The Giants were most accommodating in their biggest collapse in a decade. They had the game well in hand in the fourth quarter, even though their offense disappeared after building a 21-0 halftime lead.

Young and the Titans pecked away at the Giants' lead. The rookie quarterback threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Bo Scaife with less than 10 minutes left. Then he ran for a 1-yard touchdown to make it 21-14.

In the final three minutes, it all appeared for naught. Facing fourth-and-10 at his own 24, Young was virtually sacked by Kiwanuka, the Giants' rookie defensive end. Then, shockingly, Kiwanuka let Young go, perhaps believing the ball had been thrown.

Young didn't dawdle. He got out of the pocket and around the right end for a 19-yard gain, a first down and new life. He finished the drive with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Jones. It was 21-21, and overtime beckoned.

But Manning gave the Titans another gift. With 32 seconds left, he underthrew a pass for a receiver who was covered and found cornerback Adam Jones instead for an interception. Manning already was being roasted in New York; now he'll be skewered.

It took Young two passes to set up a game-winning 49-yard field goal by Rob Bironas.

In his news conference afterward, Giants coach Tom Coughlin said he thought Kiwanuka thought the ball had been thrown and let go of Young because he thought he'd get called for roughing the passer. It was a plausible, but still unacceptable, explanation.

"This is a terrible shock for everybody in the organization," Coughlin said. "I'm going to be sick about this one for ... forever."

NFC's sinking feeling

How bad is the NFC? Consider that on consecutive weeks, the Titans beat the Philadelphia Eagles and the Giants. They have also beaten the Washington Redskins, which means that three of their four wins this season have come against the NFC East.

That's not all. Counting the Miami Dolphins' Thanksgiving win over the Detroit Lions and the New England Patriots' decision over the Chicago Bears yesterday, the AFC carried a 31-20 interconference record into Indianapolis last night, where the Colts beat the Eagles.

Whichever team represents the NFC in the Super Bowl could be one huge long shot.

Da Bears?

It still seems unfathomable that team could turn out to be the Bears, especially after their 17-13 loss in New England. Why? Because Rex Grossman does not look capable of getting a team into the Super Bowl.

He threw three more interceptions against the Patriots -- that's 14 for the season -- and lost a fumble to account for all four Chicago turnovers. He completed only 15 of 34 passes.

The Patriots kept giving the ball back -- they committed five turnovers in a sloppy game -- but survived as if on memory. They are now 22-4 against the NFC since 2001.

Curiously, both teams face a lightweight finishing schedule. The Bears don't play a team with a winning record the last five weeks. The Patriots play only one, the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 16.

More troubles for Vick

As tough a week as it may have been for Michael Vick, things are going to get worse for the Atlanta Falcons quarterback. He endured a week of scrutiny after Jim Mora Sr. -- the father of his head coach -- agreed with a radio voice that Vick was a "coach killer."

Then he did what he's often done -- passed poorly (9-for-24 for 84 yards) and ran superbly (12 rushes for 166 yards) -- in another bad loss, this one to the New Orleans Saints, 31-13.

Things will get worse for Vick because leaving the Georgia Dome, he made an obscene gesture at some fans who were apparently heckling him. It was caught on tape. It will not be received well in NFL headquarters today. Vick can expect a fine to add to his misery.

Youth is served

Experience is supremely important, yet ... four of five first-year starting quarterbacks won in Week 12. The honor roll: Tony Romo of the Cowboys, Jason Campbell of the Redskins, Philip Rivers of the San Diego Chargers and Vince Young. The sole loser was the Arizona Cardinals' Matt Leinart.

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