Things could not have gotten much worse for the Tennessee Titans’ offense than what they were at the start of Saturday’s preseason opener.
The first play of the game was an interception that was returned for a touchdown. The first time the Titans snapped the ball on the short side of the field, a holding penalty pushed them back to their own side of the 50. Running back Chris Johnson dropped two of the three passes that were thrown to him. Ultimately, neither of the quarterbacks who hope to be the starter in the regular season led the team to a touchdown.
The good news for coach Mike Munchak in the wake of the 27-17 loss to the Seattle Seahawks was that things did – in fact – get better.
“That’s what the preseason is for – to get through these things and find the best combinations so we can settle on routes that we do run very well and combinations that we like and what creates the most problems for defenses,” Munchak said in a press briefing Sunday afternoon. “That’s kind of what you’re doing as you’re going through games is trying to find those right fits.”
Seattle outgained Tennessee 321-305 for the contest and held the ball for 32:16. The bulk of the Titans’ offense – and all of their scoring – came in the second and third quarters, however.
Johnson rushed for just eight yards on five carries, but those who followed him had much more success. Javon Ringer’s 22 yards on four attempts included one 20-yard run. Jamie Harper nearly doubled Johnson with 15 yards on five carries, and Darius Reynaud stole the show with five rushes for 29 yards and scored Tennessee’s only two touchdowns – a 21-yard run and an 85-yrd punt return, both in the third quarter – which tied it 17-17 in the third quarter.
“They were attacking the line of scrimmage with eight guys right from the beginning to make sure Chris didn’t get going,” Munchak said. “As we got a feel for what they were doing we started adjusting some of our calls and the running game started busting open, which I assume would have happened if Chris was in there.”
Similarly, the quarterbacks got more productive as they went. Rusty Smith, the third of four, had the best completion percentage and the highest passer rating of the group. He also had a 39-yard completion to wide receiver Marc Mariani that tied the longest offensive play of the night for either team.
Matt Hasselbeck was the starter and the victim of a poor route combination on his first attempt. Both Nate Washington and rookie Kendall Wright were in the area as Washington batted the ball twice and helped keep it alive long enough for Seahawks’ cornerback Brandon Browner, who covered Wright on the play, to intercept it and return it for a touchdown.
“In a preseason game it’s the small things that make a difference,” Munchak said. “On that play, I think it ended up where Matt was a little uncertain because of the distribution, how they ended up with Kendall being probably a little deeper than he needed to be. So it affected the throw. … It wasn’t as clean as you’d like it to be.”
Hasselbeck was 5-for-9 for 45 yards with two interceptions in the first quarter. He had only two snaps on Seattle’s side of the field: the first, from the 43, was negated by the holding penalty against right tackle David Stewart and the second, from the 48, was the other interception.
Jake Locker went 7-for-13 for 80 yards in the second. With him under center, the offense managed just one first down in two possessions before it got moving with five first downs in six plays in the final five minutes of the half.
“There were some adjustments made to take advantage of what they were doing,” Munchak said. “In the first quarter, you’re not sure what you’re going to get because we hadn’t had a chance to see these guys on film.
“…Obviously, in the second half, we started making some more plays on offense and got ourselves in the game and tied it up. We had a chance to at least tie or win it there and we just didn’t get that done at the end.”