NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee's ever-increasing list of injuries now puts the Titans into position to evaluate rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger in an area they hoped to avoid.
The rookie sprained his right, throwing shoulder Sunday when sacked by J.J. Watt, knocking him out of the Titans' 45-21 loss to the Houston Texans. Mettenberger couldn't return in that game, and his status for Sunday hosting the New York Giants is in question.
But coach Ken Whisenhunt said Monday the sprain isn't as bad as the Titans feared with Mettenberger moving pretty well. They have to see how the rookie recovers during the week, and how Mettenberger handles his first NFL injury will give the Titans another glimpse into whether he can be their quarterback past December.
"That's what the NFL as a player is all about," Whisenhunt said. "It's a tough game. You've got to be able to do that. You've got to be able to rally and come back and play. ... You certainly don't want put players at risk. That's not what it's about. But you don't feel great this time of year in the NFL no matter what you've done so you have to work through those things."
Mettenberger already was playing behind a patchwork offensive line when hurt. The Titans played without three starters — left tackle Taylor Lewan, center Brian Schwenke and right tackle Michael Oher — because of injuries. Oher heard a pop during warmups and didn't play, leaving only six linemen available. Right guard Chance Warmack hurt an ankle later in the third quarter.
Watt landed on Mettenberger after the rookie threw a pass to Kendall Wright in the third quarter, and the rookie couldn't return. Mettenberger was 13 of 19 for 184 yards with a touchdown and an interception with a passer rating of 95.1.
The one interception was a pass that led to receiver Justin Hunter being hit and lacerating his spleen. Hunter went to a Houston hospital and remained there Monday, though Whisenhunt said Hunter has stabilized and should be released within the next couple days. Asked if Hunter will miss the rest of the season, Whisenhunt only said they will know more later this week.
On the throw Hunter was hurt, Whisenhunt said Mettenberger should have thrown the ball to the other side of the field.
The sixth-round draft pick out of LSU said after the game he's a tough guy and expects to play when the New York Giants (3-9) visit Sunday. Whisenhunt said the soreness will be a factor in how well Mettenberger can throw.
The Titans now have lost six straight and 10 of their last 11 overall. Whisenhunt said they haven't seen Mettenberger yet in a tight game late or with the Titans protecting a late lead.
"We're getting some evaluation of Zach in as tough a situation as you can possibly be in," Whisenhunt said. "There's no question what we're seeing him do is invaluable as far as evaluating him."
If the rookie quarterback plays, whether he has his starting tackles back remains to be seen. Lewan is out of the walking boot trying to strengthen his sprained left ankle. Oher missed the first game of his six-year career.
The Titans are in the easiest stretch of their schedule with a combined seven wins among the next three opponents among the Giants, Jets and Jaguars.
"It would be nice to certainly get a win, and I hope we recognize that as a team ... we got to play better football," Whisenhunt said.
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