Gerald McRath took the ball with him and planned to send it home to his mother.
“That’s definitely going to Mom’s,” he said. “I have a lot of friends, and I went to school at Southern Miss, so that’s real close to New Orleans. That’s definitely going to be a keepsake.”
The memento will have to carry the Tennessee Titans’ second-year linebacker through the first four weeks of the regular season as he serves a league suspension for violation of the performance-enhancing substance policy.
At least it will have good feelings attached to it.
He first got his hands on it with six seconds to go as he made an end zone interception that preserved the Titans’ 27-24 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Thursday. The Saints drove 55 yards in nine plays to the Titans’ 16 with the help of a 25-yard pass interference penalty on a fourth down. It was again fourth down when quarterback Chase Daniel tried to get the ball to tight end Tyler Lorenzen only to have McRath step in front and make the play.
“Every time you’re on the field you want to make a big play,” McRath said “That’s no matter what you’re doing. Being on this defense, it’s moreso doing your job. That’s the best thing about this defense, and that’s the reason I love playing with these guys – you just have to do your job.
“If the ball was thrown to another man, then we’d be expecting somebody else to make the play. … When everybody does their job, good things happen.”
For the game, McRath was credited with five tackles and one pass defensed in addition to the interception. He said he will approach his suspension as “an extended offseason.”
“He loves the game, very passionate, a guy who would play the game for free,” linebacker Stephen Tulloch said. “… I’m anxious and excited to get him back in four weeks.”
• Work to do: Cornerback Cortland Finnegan missed the first three games of the preseason with a groin injury. Once he finally did play, he could have kicked himself for his performance.
The Pro Bowler played a little more than a quarter and spent most of that time matched up with former University of Tennessee wide receiver Robert Meachem.
Meachem caught a team-high five passes for 49 yards, and drew a pass interference penalty on Finnegan that added 39 yards to New Orleans’ game-opening drive.
“I needed to get the work in, I didn’t need to get worked – that’s the difference,” Finnegan said. “And I got worked. On a (scale of) 1 through 10, that was like a negative-3. … I need to get a whole lot better.”
Finnegan did break up one throw to Meachem as the Saints took a shot at the end zone from the Tennessee 25. He also was credited with six tackles, which tied him with two others – Stanford Keglar and Alterraun Verner – for team-high honors.
“He will be very critical of himself,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “… It was good that they did put balls up to him so that he can look at the tape and get things adjusted. It is good to have him back.”
• Special teams struggles: Speaking of kicking … the Titans had two punts blocked.
The first, with 8:46 to play in the second quarter, was returned one yard for a New Orleans touchdown. The second, with 9:35 to play, led to a touchdown four plays later that got the Saints within four, 20-16.
“They need to happen at times – young players at different positions, we moved some people around,” Fisher said. “We can fix those.”
• Titans’ receivers dropped at least five balls that were on their hands, if not exactly on target. Kenny Britt had two.
Quarterback Kerry Collins delivered most of those throws, which is why he finished the night just 8-for-17. The Titans’ other three quarterbacks all finished the night with a passer rating of better than 100.
• Tight end Jared Cook caught a team-high four passes for 61 yards, which made him the Titans’ top preseason receiver in terms of catches (eight) and yards (132).
• Tennessee had three sacks – all from defensive linemen. Jovan Haye, Jason Jones and rookie David Howard all got one.
The defense had four sacks in the previous three games combined.