Being home for almost a month with nothing to show for it is not the way the Tennessee Titans envisioned beginning the franchise’s longest homestand in 25 years.
They also didn’t expect to lose their rookie quarterback in that time.
Zach Mettenberger will start with Marcus Mariota out Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons as the Titans try to avoid going winless during a four-game home stretch.
Mariota, the second overall pick in this year’s draft, began his career by throwing for four touchdowns in a win over Tampa Bay on Sept. 13. Tennessee (1-4) hasn’t won since, though, despite the Heisman Trophy winner completing 64.0 percent of his passes.
He was sacked five times in last week’s 38-10 loss to Miami, and Dolphins defensive end Olivier Vernon hit Mariota low in the second quarter. Mariota stayed in the game and finished with four turnovers, but an MRI on Monday revealed a sprained left MCL.
Mariota said he was hoping to be able to play despite missing practice Wednesday and Thursday, but on Friday the Titans officially ruled him out.
The offensive line in front of Mettenberger, who is making his seventh career start, will have a different look. The Titans placed center Brian Schwenke on injured reserve after he dislocated his left ankle against the Dolphins, and rookie Andy Gallik is expected to take his place.
That change could be concerning for a line that already has allowed the fourth-most sacks in the NFL with 20 and been in front of a running game that ranks 21st with an average of 3.99 yards per carry, including 3.40 over the last three weeks.
This is the first time the Tennessee franchise is playing four straight at home since the Houston Oilers did it in 1990. The Titans have lost eight consecutive home games overall and are 1-10 in Nashville under Whisenhunt.
"It stinks that we’re not better at home," Whisenhunt said. "That’s something that it’s not fair to our fans, and we’ve got to do a better job of that."
Atlanta (5-1) had won both of its road games before falling 31-21 at New Orleans last Thursday, the first defeat for first-year coach Dan Quinn. The Falcons trailed by 17 entering the final quarter before Devonta Freeman ran for a 25-yard touchdown and caught a 13-yard scoring pass from Matt Ryan to make it interesting.
That defeat put the Falcons behind 5-0 Carolina in the AFC South.
"It’s a great division," defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux said. "It’s always challenging every year. We’ve got to continue doing what the Falcons do. We’re not worried about anyone else right now."
Freeman has been the catalyst for the NFL’s fourth-ranked offense, which averages 407.3 yards per game. His 10 total touchdowns are four more than anyone else in the league, and he’s rushed for at least 100 yards in three of the last four weeks, including exactly that many on just 13 carries against the Saints.
Atlanta could need Freeman to continue that surge with Julio Jones’ production dipping over the past few weeks.
Jones had 34 catches for 440 yards and four touchdowns through the first three games, but he’s caught 15 passes for 198 yards and no scores over the last three while missing multiple practices because of hamstring and toe issues.
He’s played through those injuries, though, and has been a full participant in practice this week. The Falcons had three consecutive off days after the Thursday contest.
"All players are dealing with some type of injury, so for us to get back and be as healthy as we are, I’m pleased about that," Quinn said. "I think just from the end of last week (Jones is) doing really good. There were no setbacks during the game so I think he’s moving forward."
These teams haven’t met since Ryan threw for 316 yards and a touchdown in Atlanta’s 23-17 home win in 2011.