NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Titans said hello to the upcoming bye week by extending quite a few goodbyes of their own. But with a 30-16 loss to the visiting Texans on Sunday, they still couldn’t say farewell to their losing ways.
Finally gone, though, is the disappointing first half of what appears to be another lost season in Nashville. The Titans have dropped six of seven games to possess a disheartening 2-6 record at the season’s midway point.
"It’s a process that you have to go through," Titans first-year coach Ken Whisenhunt said of the team restoring confidence during the bye week before heading into a road game on Nov. 8 at Baltimore. "We’re going through the tough part of it right now. Does a bye help us? Absolutely, it helps us."
Certainly, the Titans can bid adieu to the notion of finally returning to the playoffs, a place the franchise hasn’t been since 2008, much less win a postseason game for the first time since 2003. As the sell-out crowd of 69,143 exited LP Field, they did so from a once-friendly confine that has the Titans winning only once there in four tries this year.
The Titans also said so long to quarterback Jake Locker as starter. The team’s former first-round draft pick and starter since start of the 2012 season was demoted to backup status in favor of rookie Zach Mettenberger. In two-plus seasons, Locker had missed 17 of 39 starts, including three this year, with a variety of injuries. In his starting debut, Mettenberger completed 27 of 41 passes for 299 yards with two touchdowns, one interception and a 93.4 rating. Five different Titans — tight end Delanie Walker, running backs Bishop Sankey and Dexter McCluster and wide receivers Nate Washington and Justin Hunter — logged four catches each.
"There’s always little butterflies for anyone," Mettenberger said of his first start, "especially for guys who want to succeed and do well out there. I think butterflies before the game is definitely just a part of the game. … I wish I would have let it rip a little more early on. I kind of choked it down there early on. As I kind of settled down and got back to doing what I do and playing football, I was able to let it rip and complete some big balls."
That included a 43-yard completion to Washington and a 48-yarder to wide receiver Kendall Wright. A sixth-round draft pick out of LSU, Mettenberger had played only mop-up duty in a lopsided loss at the Colts earlier in the regular season after playing well in the preseason.
"He’s a young quarterback getting his first start in week eight," Walker said of Mettenberger, "so it’s going to take him a little bit of time. He’s new at it, seeing different schemes and the defense rolling its coverage. As the game wore on, you could tell he started understanding more, and I think he’s going to be a good quarterback."
Still, the Titans got very little done on offense in the first half and had to play from behind in the second half like they have done nearly all season long.
"I think what we are as an offense right now is a team that needs somebody to make a play to get a spark going," Whisenhunt said after his team had only 36 rushing yards. "Once that happens for us, we generally go pretty good and, you know, we had some dropped balls. We missed some balls early in the game."
Directing a Texans offense that had 405 total yards, no turnovers and controlled the ball 35:22 compared to the Titans’ 24:38 was quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who started nine games last year for the Titans as backup quarterback to Locker. Fitzpatrick completed 19 of 35 passes for 227 yards with one touchdown, no interceptions and a 83.9 rating.
"We needed it for sure," Fitzpatrick said of the Texans (4-4) snapping a three-game losing skid after a 3-1 start. "Coming into the game, especially offensively, we knew we needed to come out of it with no turnovers and not beat ourselves. We felt like we were going to have a chore, but we would be able to control the line of scrimmage and, hopefully, get Arian going a little bit."
Foster got more than "going a little bit." The former University of Tennessee running back gained 151 yards on 20 carries — that’s 7.6 yards per carry — and two touchdowns. Both scores came in the crucial third quarter as the Texans were blowing the game open and widening the lead to 27-3.
"This is a team game," said Foster, who now has 765 rushing yards to rank second in the NFL. "I can’t do anything without the guys making the push that they did up front. But anytime you get compliments from your teammates at this level, it is always a good thing and always feels good."