There may be no reason to remember the Titans, but Tennessee rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger did provide a few keepsake moments Friday night at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
For one, his 64-yard pass to wide receiver Justin Hunter with 2:34 remaining in the second quarter marked his first touchdown toss in the NFL and gave the Titans a short-lived 17-14 lead over the New Orleans Saints, who eventually prevailed 31-24.
Mettenberger, a sixth-round pick from LSU, entered the game on short notice after backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst reinjured his throwing hand when sacked by blitzing Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro.
After a few hurried warmup tosses, Titans’ coach Ken Whisenhunt inserted Mettenberger, who promptly drove the Titans 74 yards in four plays for a go-ahead touchdown. Hunter caught the pass in stride between the hash marks at the Saints 45, eluded a fallen defender and ran untouched into the end zone.
“Zach made the throw, and I came through and took it to the house,’’ said Hunter, who also caught a 4-yard touchdown pass from starting quarterback Jake Locker in the first quarter.
In an otherwise sloppy game, Mettenberger acquitted himself nicely, completing 20 of 25 passes for 269 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception for a 121.5 passer rating. He also lost a fumble in the second quarter.
It was in sharp contrast to his exhibition debut a week ago when he completed four of seven passes for 87 yards and one interception in the fourth quarter of a 20-16 victory against Green Bay.
“I did some good things, and I did a lot of bad things,’’ said Mettenberger, who was greeted warmly by the announced sellout crowd of 73,002 that included Gov. Bobby Jindal. “I’m still getting acclimated going against 35-year-old guys who have forgotten more football than I know. But it was good for our No. 2 offense getting a touchdown against their No. 1 defense (on his first possession).
“Then, of all people, my (interception in the fourth quarter) went to Saints (rookie safety) Vinnie Sunseri from Alabama. But getting those reps is real important. Last week I only got 16, but this week I was out there for a long time. And it will help me to watch tape on myself from this game and try to fix the negative things I did to play better for next week’s game against Atlanta.’’
Whether Mettenberger’s performance is enough to move him past Whitehurst on the Titans’ depth chart remains to be seen. Most observers see this season as a likely redshirt year for Mettenberger, whose draft stock took a huge hit after he suffered a torn ACL and a grade three MCL tear in his left knee against Arkansas in the Tigers’ last game of the regular season.
Now eight months after surgery, Mettenberger is making a case to back up Locker.
“It was a pleasant surprise hearing the cheers from the crowd,’’ Mettenberger said. “It’s great to be well liked in Louisiana, that’s for sure, and I loved it. As a matter of fact, we were out there in the shotgun doing regular cadence. We had to go to silent cadence because it was so loud out there. It’s great to be back and playing in front of Louisiana fans.’’
Though Mettenberger made mistakes Friday night, Whisenhunt seemed encouraged by the progress of his young quarterback.
“You can tell we got a chance with Zach,’’ Whisenhunt said. “He’s done a nice job in there for us in both games. It’s a long process for a young quarterback. We got to get some things cleaned up, but the experience that he got in there tonight is invaluable for him.’’
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