Titans’ Rishard Matthews off to best start with 6 TD catches

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The offseason addition of wide receiver Rishard Matthews has paid big dividends for the Tennessee Titans.

Matthews already has set a career high with six touchdown catches — all within the past six weeks.

Only Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans and Jordy Nelson of Green Bay (eight) and Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown (seven) have more touchdown catches in the NFL than Matthews, who is tied with four others.

And the receiver easily is poised to turn in the most receptions and yards receiving in just his first year working with quarterback Marcus Mariota.

“I’m glad it happened the way it did,” Matthews said.

A seventh-round draft pick out of Nevada, the 6-foot, 217-pound Matthews spent his first four seasons with the Miami Dolphins where he started only 17 of his 49 games.

When he hit free agency, Matthews went looking for the chance to do more coming off the best season of his career with 43 catches in 11 starts for 662 yards and four touchdown receptions.

Matthews had a couple of teams calling, but he and his agent saw the Titans and Mariota as the right match with a three-year contract .

It took a little bit of time to start building timing and chemistry, but offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie thinks returning to Miami to play the Dolphins jump-started Matthews’ season.

“From there, I think those two they’ve kind of bonded a little bit,” Robiskie said Thursday of Matthews and Mariota.

Matthews caught his first touchdown pass from Mariota in Miami on Oct. 9, and he’s added five TD catches since then helping Tennessee (5-5) win four of its past six. He caught two in the second quarter at San Diego on Nov. 6 and added another last week. The Titans visit Indianapolis (4-5) on Sunday.

Matthews has made a handful of long catches too and believes Mariota’s trust in him just keeps climbing.

“He’s been coming to me in key situations,” Matthews said. “That just means a lot to myself, and I’m just glad I could go out there and make plays for him.”

The Titans needed help at wide receiver after investing second-round draft picks in Justin Hunter and Dorial Green-Beckham. They released Hunter in the final cuts, while they traded Green-Beckham during training camp for a backup offensive lineman.

Coach Mike Mularkey said how Matthews has played is what caught the Titans’ attention.

“Obviously, big, thick receiver, really strong to the ball, strong hands, makes plays and contested catches, playmaker, which he’s been doing here for the last six weeks,” Mularkey said.

“He’s been making plays. Obviously, the touchdowns have been big plays, but a lot of what you’re seeing was on tape. You know, he was hurt last year and only got so many games to show what he had. It’s showing up again.”

Matthews is part of a receiving group that ranks third in the NFL for fewest drops, having dropped five of the 210 passes deemed catchable by STATS LLC.

That ranks Tennessee third in the NFL with a drop rate of 2.4 percent per catch behind only Washington (1.2 percent) and Dallas (2.1).

Mularkey said the receivers have been dependable after he was probably harder on them than any other group on the team.

“We’ve got a mix of guys, a rookie that’s playing in his 11th game, Rishard has come about,” Mularkey said. “I give them credit. They have rebounded and helped us with our offense.”

Notes: RB DeMarco Murray (toe) practiced fully Thursday after being given a day of rest Wednesday.