Matt Leinart got the start against Tennessee Sunday after Kurt Warner couldn't play because of his concussion.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Years had passed since Matt Leinart and Vince Young started opposite each other on the football field.
What Leinart found by the end of Sunday's game was that Young again got the best of him.
Young's 10-yard, fourth-down touchdown pass to Kenny Britt on the final play of Sunday's game gave the Tennessee Titans a 20-17 win over the Cardinals, delivering a 99-yard drive that torpedoed Leinart's starting debut in 2009 and the Cardinals' perfect road record.
"It's funny," Leinart said afterward. "Steve (Breaston) came up on the final drive and was like, 'This is déjà vu all over again.' "
Breaston lost to Young in the Rose Bowl when he was at Michigan, and Leinart, of course, lost the classic Rose Bowl to Young and Texas in his final game at USC.
But circumstances had changed, most notably that Leinart wasn't even supposed to be playing. Kurt Warner is the Cardinals' starter, but lingering sensitivity to light – which may or may not have to do with the concussion he suffered the week before in St. Louis – led the Cards and Warner to end Warner's consecutive starts streak at 41 games.
"There were just a few little issues that we didn't feel comfortable with," Warner said.
Warner's problems may have been connected to his neck soreness, but neither he nor the team wanted to take any risks. So Leinart started for the first time since 2007.
Leinart said he had a good idea Saturday he'd be starting, but didn't know for sure until game day. And after a slow start, he responded.
Leinart completed 21-of-31 passes for 220 yards, including a clutch 21-yard pass down the sideline to rookie running back Beanie Wells that set up the go-ahead touchdown – a six-yard run by Tim Hightower.
"You've got to look at the film," Leinart said, "but I was happy with the way I played."
So too were the Cardinals (7-4), despite losing for the first time in six road games.
"We did what we had to do to have a chance to win the game," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said.
The Titans (5-6), winners of five straight, got huge performances from their top weapons. Running back Chris Johnson, the NFL's top rusher, piled up 154 yards on just 18 carries, including an 85-yard scamper that had put the Titans ahead, 13-3.
Cardinals rookie running back LaRod Stephens-Howling answered immediately with a 99-yard kickoff return that quickly returned momentum to the other side of the field, which played out when Leinart orchestrated an 80-yard touchdown drive early in the fourth quarter.
"We made some adjustments at halftime," said tight end Ben Patrick, who pulled in a 23-yard catch when the Cards were at their own 5 early in the second half, a play call that showed confidence in Leinart. "The Titans were doing some good things defensively. Our slow start had nothing to do with the quarterback change."
The Titans, however, have had their season turn on a quarterback change. Young was harassed more by the Cardinals than any other team – he was sacked four times, with three going to defensive end Darnell Dockett – and he only scrambled for eight yards.
But by the end of the game, he had passed for 387 yards, converting three times on fourth down during the game-winning drive.
The final fourth down came at the end. With six seconds left, the Cards pressured Young, but he stepped up into the pocket and fired a strike to Britt, a rookie who had seven catches for 128 yards.
"It was very difficult to see them convert, especially the fourth downs," cornerback Bryant McFadden said. "But that last drive, they made some tough catches and they had some luck. It wasn't that we weren't executing."
Coach Ken Whisenhunt said the Cards had been using a combination zone and that's what the Cards had in on the final play.
"We just came up short," Dockett said.
The Cardinals can't have any kind of hangover, given that the Vikings – rolling along at 10-1 – come to Glendale next week for "Sunday Night Football." Dockett insisted the Cards would bounce back.
Knowing Leinart played well was a decent silver lining. But it wouldn't wipe away the hurt at least for a night.
"This was as close to a bad feeling you had by losing the Super Bowl," Whisenhunt said. "But we can't let it affect us going forward."
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