It was not that long ago that the Tennessee Titans last had three different starting quarterbacks in as many games.
This time it will be different, though.
The Titans concluded the 2003 season with – in succession – Billy Volek, Steve McNair and Neil O’Donnell taking turns as the leader of the offense. Each had more experience than the one who preceded him, which was critical given that O’Donnell, who had been waived at the end of training camp, was re-signed just days before he took the field against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the regular-season finale.
This time things have worked in reverse. It was 16-year veteran Kerry Collins who started at Miami on Nov. 14 and Vince Young, in his fifth season, who got the assignment last Sunday against Washington.
This week at Houston, it will be rookie Rusty Smith, who gets the nod. Smith has exactly nine passes of NFL experience, all of them against Washington after Young was knocked out by a thumb injury, which ultimately ended his season.
“He went in there and did his best,” wide receiver Marc Mariani said. “He was ready when his number was called and after that … there were plays here and there we need to make to get some of these close games.
“I know he’s going to be looking for ways to improve, as we all are.”
There’s one other notable difference between the current situation and what happened in 2003.
Then, the team was good enough to win regardless of who was under center. With Volek under center the Titans defeated Buffalo 28-26. McNair guided them to a 27-24 victory at Houston, and O’Donnell helped them ease past Tampa Bay 33-13.
That got them into the playoffs, where they won their opener at Baltimore (with McNair at quarterback) before they lost at New England.
Currently the Titans are mired in a three-game losing streak, capped by their 19-16 overtime loss to the Redskins, their first defeat against an NFC opponent in 13 tries.
That has dropped them to 5-5, one game behind both Jacksonville and Indianapolis and one game ahead of Houston with five of their remaining six against their division rivals (two each against Houston and Indianapolis, one against Jacksonville).
“Youn can’t panic,” linebacker Stephen Tulloch said, “We were 0-6 (last season). You can’t panic. I’ve been on the lows with a Tennessee team. You have to keep working.
“From here on out it’s playoff time. It’s a playoff state of mind. It’s divisional games. It’s a must-win situation. There’s no sugar-coating about it. There’s no hiding behind it. … We have to win.”
And they’ll have to do it with Smith, who never has been in such a situation – or virtually any other situation – in the NFL.
“He’s not going to do it perfect, he’s not going to do (the right things) all the time, but he’s going to put the ball where he’s supposed to put it,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “… We have a veteran group of guys on this offense that will rally around him.”
• Young officially was placed on injured reserve Tuesday, and veteran Chris Simms, who spent the 2008 season and this past offseason with Tennessee, was re-signed,
Also, linebacker David Thornton was activated from the physically unable to perform list, where he had been since the start of training camp. To make room on the roster, guard Ryan Durand was waived.