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Everything comes up roses for Young, again

September 25, 2007|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

NEW ORLEANS -- With teams all over the NFL unveiling nostalgic uniforms, the New Orleans Saints and Tennessee Titans trotted out a different kind of throwback.

Think Rose Bowl, circa 2006.

In a Monday night game featuring three of the stars from that Texas-USC national championship -- Vince Young, Reggie Bush and LenDale White -- it was the elusive quarterback who once again took control.

Young, showing the finesse that made him last season's rookie of the year, threw two touchdown passes and kept the Saints off balance with his running to lead Tennessee to a 31-14 victory at the Superdome.

It was another blow to the Saints (0-3), who began the season with Super Bowl dreams but have since dropped consecutive games to Indianapolis, Tampa Bay and the Titans (2-1). The hometown crowd watched in disbelief as their beloved team, which led the league in total offense last year, struggled even to get a first down.

"At the beginning of the year, everybody was looking at us to win the Super Bowl," Bush said. "I'm sure they're not looking at us now."

The Super Bowl is a long way off, of course. And, as Young sees it, the Rose Bowl is ancient history.

"A lot of people keep trying to make this a rivalry between me and Reggie," he said. "I have so much respect for the guy, what he does for his team as well as what he does for the community."

Then, he let the world in on a little secret. "I called him for tickets for this game, and he came through," Young said.

Surely, Young didn't disappoint his family and friends. His numbers were modest -- 14 of 22 for 164 yards, and 21 yards rushing on five carries -- but he managed the game beautifully. And he didn't panic or force things in bringing the Titans back from a 14-10 deficit in the third quarter.

"Vince has the ability to turn a game around all by himself, whether it's by running the ball or throwing it," Tennessee center Kevin Mawae said. "I've never had to buy a ticket to an NFL game before. But if I did, I'd definitely pay to watch him."

Bush, meanwhile, is slogging through a slump. Despite scoring a pair of one-yard touchdowns Monday, he also let a sure scoring pass thump off his chest, and he finished with just 15 yards in seven carries. So the most heavily marketed NFL player this side of Peyton Manning is averaging 2.8 yards per carry.

Asked why his production has dropped off so sharply since his Heisman Trophy days at USC, Bush said: "The college level, it was a totally different level for me. I was playing with a lot of great guys from my team, we dominated every team we played. A lot of teams were scared of us. . . . This is different. This is the NFL. This is a league of all-stars."

Emblematic of the Saints' struggles were their first-quarter numbers: five yards passing, eight yards rushing and no first downs.

"We're just not playing very well, and the teams that we've played are better than we are right now," Saints linebacker Scott Fujita said.

Without question, Young was the offensive star for the Titans, who also got a one-yard touchdown from former USC back White. But it was a stellar night for Tennessee's defense, too, which intercepted four Drew Brees passes - three by linebacker Keith Bulluck.

Reminded that Brees was an All-Pro selection last year, Bulluck broke into a broad smiled and said: "Hey, I'm an All-Pro too."

The Saints have next weekend off, a timely break considering they need to regroup, and they need time for running back Deuce McAllister to heal. He limped off to the locker room before halftime with an undisclosed leg injury and didn't return.

"I think the saying 'one game at a time' never meant more to us than it does right now," Brees said. "We're just trying to get that first win and forget that we have 13 games left."

Saints fans are loyal. For example, about an hour before kickoff, a man in a New Orleans jersey made his way to his seat wearing a paper bag on his head. He drew boos, catcalls and at least one obscene threat.

A few more games like Monday's, though, and that man could have company.

--

sam.farmer@latimes.com

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