Despite five turnovers in losing a 31-24 game to the Saints Saturday night, there were some bright spots for the Titans. Unlike last week, they played in temperature-controlled comfort of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.
Here are some observations from my recliner.
- Titans quarterback Jake Locker showed what Titans fans and first-year coach Ken Whisenhunt have been looking for.
One, he completed 8 of 11 passes for 75 yards, including a touchdown pass to second-year wide receiver Justin Hunter, who made a tough catch in the end zone. He left in the second quarter after putting 10 points up on two possessions.
Two, Locker had pocket presence. He looked more comfortable, even when the pocket closed in on him. He was hit on a blitz, managed to break free and complete a pass downfield. That’s where Locker is most dangerous.
- Returner Marc Mariani struggled on returns last week. He showed more confidence against the Saints. A long kickoff return by Mariana in the second quarter was whistled back after officials caught Patrick Bailey on a holding penalty and it was called back.
In the first half, he had 3 returns for 91 yards. That’s getting it done.
Mariani knew where he wanted to take the ball and when to fair catch punts. He has only played two games in the past two seasons, so Mariana is just glad to be healthy and hungry.
- The officiating crew looked very much like it was the first NFL game they had ever worked. Calls were frequent and momentum killers on both sides
They huddled more than the two teams combined. They looked as confused as a first time tourist after downing six hurricanes at Pat O’Brien’s.
In the first half alone, the Titans were called seven times for 91 yards. The Saints sinned 14 times for 116 yards.
- Titans third-string quarterback Zach Mettenberger drew the largest ovation of the night when the former LSU Tiger entered the game after backup
Backup Charlie Whitehurst went out early with a finger injury when he was sacked in the first half.
Mettenberger wasted no time showing what he is capable of. He hit Hunter in stride downfield and the former Tennessee star finished the 64-yard touchdown play to give the Titans a 17-14 lead in the second quarter.
We know. Even the worst NFL quarterbacks can look good when going against the other team’s benchwarmers. They aren’t subjected to any confusing defensive schemes, thus if they have the time they can hit their targets. Still, you have to do it and Mettenberger was golden.
- The Saints held a 21-17 lead through the third quarter, and they gashed the Titans defense too many times for long gainers.
The Titans hybrid defense remains a work in progress. They were giving receivers too much air. They allowed runners to break loose for yards after the first contact.
Just as they did last week, the Titans allowed their opponents to drive for a touchdown on their first possession.
With QB Drew Brees sitting out, backup Luke McGowan drove the Saints 80 yards in 16 plays to take a 7-0 lead with 8:23 left in the first quarter.
They made five first downs during the time-eating drive. McGown was 6 of 10 for 58 of the yards. Three of them went to tight end Jimmy Graham, the third one from seven yards out. Evidently Graham had not heard that there is a rule against dunking the ball over the crossbar after a TD. The officials did not flag him then, but did when he repeated it after he scored his second touchdown.
- Titans defensive end turned tight end Taylor Thompson is flourishing under Whisenhunt’s system. He can find open spots in the defense and catch the ball.
He is gaining confidence from the quarterbacks, especially Mettenberger.
- First half numbers had Titans leading in total yards, 246-227. They were up on the Saints in the passing game 193-188 as well as the run game, 246-227.
- Next week the Titans stay on the road, taking on Atlanta, as roster cuts are difficult to predict after two games.