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Young has tough NFL playoff debut for injury-riddled Titans

SAN DIEGO -- With a chance to create some magic for the Tennessee Titans, Vince Young tried to run.

And found himself smothered, first by San Diego linebacker Shawne Merriman, then by Luis Castillo.

The quarterback who ran all over Southern California two years ago to lead Texas to a national title had a painful baptism to the NFL playoffs on Sunday in a 17-6 loss to San Diego in an AFC Wild Card Game.

Call it a very important step in the growth of a second-year quarterback.

"For my first time in the playoffs, I really feel like I did all right," Young said. "I could have done a little bit better, but at the same time I just played the game and took what the defense gave me. Just talking to my coaches, they said I was very poised and I played pretty good. I just need to finish."

Titans coach Jeff Fisher said Young played well enough for his team to win.

"He was healthy," Fisher said of Young, who had a sore right quadriceps muscle.

Young downplayed the excitement of his postseason debut.

"All the hoop and holler about the playoffs, it's real big. But at the same time, you've just got to go out and play your game," Young said.

When Tennessee needed some of the timely plays Young came up with in producing five fourth-quarter comebacks as the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2006, he didn't have enough help.

Young was playing behind an offensive line with all five members making their postseason debuts, because center Kevin Mawae (injured left calf) and right guard Benji Olson (back) couldn't play. He also didn't have top tight end Bo Scaife (lacerated liver) and receiver Roydell Williams (broken right ankle).

Veteran receiver Eric Moulds started in place of Williams, who had a career-high 55 catches in the regular season. Moulds said it's tough when backups have to start in the playoffs. He called this game a good experience for Young.

"Quarterbacks that play in this league make their names winning in the playoffs, and he wants to be mentioned as one of the better quarterbacks in the league. For him to do that, he's going to have to win in the playoffs," Moulds said.

"There's going to be pressure on him for the most part, because he's a quarterback. But we have to help him win games."

Chris Brown blew a prime opportunity to put the Titans up 10-0 early in the second quarter when he lost the ball at the Chargers 9-yard line after being hit by Merriman.

Young also nearly answered when San Diego went up 10-6 late in the third quarter, driving the Titans to a first down at the Chargers 17.

But Young was almost picked off on a short pass up the middle, then was short on a throw to fullback Ahmard Hall. Pro Bowl kicker Rob Bironas, who led the NFL with 35 field goals in the regular season on 39 attempts, pushed a 38-yard try just left past the goal post.

That was as close as the Titans would get to scoring again.

"It's frustrating anytime we get down in the red zone and have to settle for field goals as an offense," receiver Justin Gage said. "It came and got us today."

Young, the first quarterback drafted in 2006, had been 17-11 as a starter through his first two seasons. He helped the Titans open the game by driving to a field goal and a 3-0 lead -- the first points allowed by the Chargers in the first quarter all season.

The defense that shut out San Diego in the first half and carried Tennessee to its first playoff berth since 2003 did its part, holding LaDainian Tomlinson to 42 yards on 21 carries, 12 of those for a yard or less. The Titans shut out the Chargers for the first half.

With 8:45 left and trailing 17-6, Young couldn't find any room to operate.

He tossed an incomplete pass and was sacked by Merriman and then Castillo to go three-and-out.

The defense got Young the ball back with 3:56 remaining. But the Titans went backward on two plays before Drayton Florence picked off a Young pass, ending the quarterback's day.

Young finished 16 of 29 for 138 yards and was sacked three times.

"We are young," he said. "Not to use that as an excuse, but we learned a lot through this season."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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