In addition to the obvious benefits of the Tennessee Titans’ ability to run the ball in their season-opening victory over Oakland, there was one other, much more subtle one.
Starting wide receivers Justin Gage and Nate Washington did not have to catch often – or at all, in Gage’s case.
Each entered the regular season with a lingering injury issue in an area that is terribly inconvenient for receivers. Gage has had a thumb problem since the mid-part of training camp, and Washington has battled a wrist injury since he was hurt during an offseason workout.
For each, every pass that comes their way offers the potential for pain, provided it hits in just the right spot.
“No matter if it’s excruciating pain for that day or if it feels great for that day, you just have to come out every day and know that you have a job to do,” Washington said. “That’s what I’m here for, and every bit of me that I can give I will give.”
The Titans’ 17 pass attempts Sunday were tied for the fewest in the NFL in Week 1 with the Houston Texans, who also had a pretty good day running courtesy of former University of Tennessee back Arian Foster. Only Houston (nine), Kansas City and the New York Jets (10 each) had fewer completions than Tennessee’s 13.
It was the franchise’s fewest throws on opening weekend since 2004, when Steve McNair was 9-for-14 in a 17-7 loss to Miami. In between, Titans’ quarterbacks attempted an average of 29.2 passes on opening weekend, including a whopping 42 in 2006.
Washington had four balls thrown his way by quarterback Vince Young, which tied him with running back Chris Johnson for the most on the team. He caught three for 88 yards, one of which was a 56-yard touchdown reception.
Gage was targeted just once, and he did not make a reception. The same was true of second-year tight end Jared Cook and rookie wide receiver Marc Mariani.
“We want to make the defense uncomfortable,” Washington said. “One day, I might be the guy who has the thee catches with the (88) yards and a touchdown, but you still have Kenny Britt, Justin Gage, Lavell Hawkins, Marc and the guys we have. … You just have to prepare every week mentally to know … that when your number’s called, you have to be there to answer the call.”
Gage and Washington both admitted to some level of continued physical discomfort that has affected their preparation to play.
In Gage’s case, he says he plans to catch fewer balls from the Jugs machine, which players routinely use to hone their hand-eye coordination.
“I’ve been trying to save it and do a little less in that aspect, but still be as sharp in the game – making every route count, every ball thrown to me count and being prepared for gameday,” Gage said.
Washington stressed that he has maintained consistent communication with the team’s medical staff before he has decided what and what not to do.
“It’s getting better, but I’m not too much focused on it,” he said. “The pain is going to be what it is. I’ve kind of learned to deal with it so far.”