HOUSTON -- On the definitive series of Monday night's game, Vince Young did what so many players and teams have tried and failed to do.
He turned Titans running back Chris Johnson from a primary to a complementary player.
On third-and-3 from the Tennessee 48-yard line, finding nothing as he looked downfield, Young took off.
And before he sneaked out of bounds for a 12-yard gain and another conversion, he picked up a block from Johnson. It was the NFL’s top rusher and perhaps most dynamic playmaker who got between the quarterback and Houston’s excellent rookie linebacker, Brian Cushing.
Four plays later, Titans kicker Rob Bironas connected on a 53-yard field goal for the final points of a 20-17 Titans win that ended when kicker Kris Brown's 49-yard attempt to force overtime sailed wide left.
Houston defenders were left to explain how Young evaded them on so many crucial plays.
Cornerback Dunta Robinson flailed at Young’s feet on at least one occasion.
“It was devastating,” he said. “… It’s easier said than done, to go out there and try to stop it.”
“You’re just thinking you’ve got to get him down,” Texans defensive lineman Antonio Smith said of Young on the run. “You’re thinking you’ve got to find a way to get to him. You know he’s going to run. So you’ve got to find a way to adjust to it, and when you expect him to run to come off a block and strip the ball.”
Johnson topped 100 yards (151) for the fifth game in a row as the Titans won their fourth consecutive game. With Young and Johnson running some option plays and Young scrambling out of some pass plays, Tennessee put on a show on Houston’s big date with "Monday Night Football."
The high-powered Texans got a 305-yard passing effort from Matt Schaub but didn’t get the points to match, while giving up 228 yards on the ground and watching Brown miss a long but makeable field goal that could have forced overtime for the second game in a row against a divisional foe.
Young gained confidence running as the game went on. And he did the bulk of his damage in the second half with first downs on five of his nine rushes as he gained 61 yards.
In the final period he had first-down runs of 10, 11 and 12 yards, with the receivers, backs and tight ends who started the play running routes for him shifting into blocker mode and helping him get easily out of bounds past the marker.
Johnson was happy to transform into a downfield blocker.
“I’ve blocked before, that’s not the first time it occurred,” he said. “If you want to be a complete back, you’ve got to do all the little things.”
Young said the Texans were in a lot of man coverage, and when the defensive linemen pushed upfield he was left with a lot of room to operate against defensive backs who weren’t facing toward him. The Texans went to Cover 2 a few times, but Young was able to pull it down and use his legs to make things happen even then.
The uptick in Young’s running success coincided with the sort of late-game tiredness that makes getting ahold of him even tougher than usual, Robinson said.
“You’ve just got to stay in your lanes and you’ve got to take proper angles,” he said. “Sometimes fatigue sets in and angles, that thought kind of goes out the window. And that’s when he’s most dangerous.”
It wasn’t all legs. Young didn’t light it up throwing it, but had another efficient passing performance -- 11-of-22 for 116 yards, a touchdown and no picks.
On a second-quarter play in the red zone, Young rolled right and had Johnson open on a short route in front of him for a first down. He decided against the safe throw to Johnson that many would expect him to make and fired to Kenny Britt for a 13-yard score.
He also tossed a beautiful deep ball over a defender for Nate Washington and watched it skim off the receiver’s hands.
When he was installed ahead of Kerry Collins following the Titans' 0-6 start, Young inherited a team with little more to lose. While the Texans seemed to feel the pressure as the moments that would decide the game arrived, the easygoing demeanor Young prides himself on was still evident.
He put his arm around coach Jeff Fisher’s shoulder when he arrived at the sideline after failing to realize the 2:00 warning was upon the team in the first half. He patted an official on the backside after he was marked down, correctly, short of the goal line on one scamper. And he said he talked after the game amiably with Cushing, who was flagged for a late hit on Young out of bounds, telling his one-time USC rival that he should be defensive rookie of the year.
After the game, Young continued to work hard to say the right things.
“I just want to continue to lead my team,” he said, “and win the respect of my teammates as well as my coaches.”
He’s winning a lot more than that.