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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Zach Mettenberger shaved his beard and got a haircut for his big NFL moment, and he wound up throwing for the most yards ever by a rookie quarterback making his first start for the Tennessee franchise.
The rookie needs more help from his teammates.
Mettenberger threw for 299 yards and two touchdowns but also turned the ball over twice as the Titans lost 30-16 to the Houston Texans on Sunday.
"Me being a spark is not just about me," Mettenberger said. "There's 10 other guys on that field that got to help me along. Obviously, I can't make a lot of plays on my own running around. Those other 10 guys protecting, catching balls, catching tough passes for me is really going to help our offense get better."
First-year coach Ken Whisenhunt wasn't ready to grade his rookie, the third different quarterback to start this season for Tennessee. The coach now has a bye to review all that's going wrong for the Titans (2-6), who have lost two straight and are 1-3 at home.
"I tell you one thing he did," Whisenhunt said. "He stood in the pocket at times and hung in there and made some throws."
The rookie also got a lesson from Texans defensive end J.J. Watt. The defensive end noticed some of the selfies Mettenberger shared on Twitter, including one a couple hours before kickoff. Watt sacked Mettenberger twice and forced the quarterback into a fumble, and the defensive end celebrated his second sack by pretending to take a selfie.
"It is kind of a reminder that this is the National Football League, not high school," Watt said of his selfie. "Welcome to the show."
The Texans (4-4) snapped a three-game skid and beat the team they replaced in Houston for the fourth time in five games. Arian Foster ran for 151 yards and two touchdowns and also caught a pass for a score, topping 100 yards rushing in his fourth straight game — the first such streak in his career.
Texans linebacker Jadeveon Clowney played for the first time since hurting his knee in the season opener. Clowney played mostly in passing situations and finished with one tackle.
The Texans had no trouble throttling a Tennessee offense playing three rookies with left tackle Taylor Lewan and running back Bishop Sankey joining Mettenberger.
D.J. Swearinger intercepted a pass from Mettenberger in the second quarter to end the Titans' first drive into Houston territory. Tim Jamison recovered the fumble after Watt sacked Mettenberger and popped the ball out to end Tennessee's first drive in the third quarter.
Houston led 13-3 at halftime, a lead that should have been much bigger.
The Titans forced the Texans to settle for two field goals by Randy Bullock on drives inside the Tennessee 12, and Houston had first-and-goal at the Titans 2 when Fitzpatrick was sacked for the fourth time.
Whisenhunt turned his offense over to Mettenberger, the sixth-round draft pick out of LSU, after the Titans had lost five of six with Jake Locker missing three of those with separate injuries. Mettenberger gave glimpses of his strong arm with a 48-yard toss to Kendall Wright and a 43-yarder to Nate Washington. The rookie had his first career TD pass on a 6-yarder to Delanie Walker.
"He's going to be a good quarterback," Walker said. "It was his first game, so he's going to have his bugs here and there. He has to get those out."
The quarterback switch didn't fix Tennessee's other woes. The run game remains nonexistent. Three of the Titans' six penalties were on the offense, and not being flagged once in the second half counted as progress.
"Everybody is contributing to it," Whisenhunt said.
Notes: Mettenberger now is the ninth quarterback to start as a rookie for the Houston-Tennessee franchise and the fourth since 1990. He topped Jacky Lee who threw for 281 yards and three TDs in the 10th game of 1960 for the then-Oilers of the AFL. Only Lee, Brent Pease in 1987 and Steve McNair in 1995 won their first starts for this team. ... Whisenhunt said Titans WR Nate Washington sprained a joint in his shoulder. ... The Titans had five sacks.
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