Rusty Smith insists he was keeping his cool – or at least attempting to do so.
In his first NFL game, the Tennessee Titans’ third-string quarterback appeared to make his first career completion to Randy Moss for a 36-yard touchdown in the third quarter against the Washington Redskins on Sunday at LP Field.
At that point, the adrenaline was too much for the rookie.
“It really didn’t starting hitting me until I came back to the sideline after the drive. I was sprinting downfield because I was so pumped,” Smith said. “My heart was racing after that play.”
Unfortunately, it was all for naught as Moss was called for offensive pass interference, negating the touchdown. Smith never did throw his first career touchdown in a quarter-plus of regulation and one drive of overtime as the Titans lost 19-16.
Fortunately for Smith, he’ll get another shot.
After the game, Titans coach Jeff Fisher announced Smith as the team’s starting quarterback. Vince Young left Sunday’s game late in the third quarter after tearing flexor tendon in his thumb. Fisher said Young might need season-ending surgery.
Plus, Young stormed out of the locker room and out of the stadium. Fisher said he was told Young tossed half of his uniform into the stands. Backup Kerry Collins is also out with a calf injury, thus leaving Smith as the Titans’ lone option – for now.
“As far as our quarterback situation is concerned, if that’s the case (with Young’s injury and attitude), Rusty is going to be our guy,” Fisher said. “We will probably have to go out and get someone and wait until Kerry heals up.”
Smith wasn’t perfect but he did enough to give the Titans a chance.
He came in with 2:50 left in the third quarter and the Titans leading 13-10. Smith immediately looked for Moss. The wide receiver had been thrown to just once when Young was in the game. Smith went to him three times.
On his second play, he sent a pass in Moss’ direction but Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall broke the throw up. He then went to Moss again on a fourth-and-3 but the pass interference negated the touchdown. His last throw to Moss was early in the fourth quarter and Hall again broke it up.
“Rusty is not a shy guy at all,” Titans wide receiver Nate Washington said. “He is going to come out and play to win. That is a good quality in him.”
Smith completed just three of nine passes for 62 yards. His biggest connection was his first career completion – a 52-yarder to Washington early in the fourth quarter. The two hooked up across the middle and the receiver galloped to the Redskins’ 27-yard line to set up Rob Bironas for a 40-yard field goal for a 16-13 lead with 8:45 to go.
The 6-foot-5, 226-pound Smith also missed Washington too, though. His delivery on the first play of the Titans’ drive with less than six minutes left went too high and Phillip Buchanon picked him off.
“Rusty is the type of guy who is going to come out there and try to make every play possible that he can,” Washington said. “When he doesn’t, he kind of jumps on himself… We just had to keep telling him ‘Calm down, relax, that’s OK. You are doing a good job, you just have to be on page with us.'
“That is expected. He is the third-string quarterback. I think he came in and did a really good job.”
Smith was a sixth-round pick in last year’s draft out of Florida Atlantic University. He led the Owls to their first two bowl appearances in school history and in 2007 he threw for a school-record 3,688 yards and 32 touchdowns.
He accomplished another milestone Sunday as he became the first rookie quarterback -- outside of Young -- to throw a pass for the Titans since the team moved to Tennessee in 1997. Now he’ll try to stay in the saddle long enough to complete his first touchdown pass.
“Definitely a long way to go but I think I did make a couple good decisions, a couple good throws,” Smith said. “But (there were) way too many mistakes for me to be complacent.”
Not enough of them though to keep him from being named the starter.
• Tennessee’s Marc Mariani became the first player in the NFL this season with both a kickoff return and a punt return for a touchdown when he took back a first-quarter punt 87 yards for the game’s first score.
Washington’s opening drive ended at its own 42, and Mariani returned Hunter Smith’s 41-yard punt 15 yards to the Titans’ 32. Offsetting penalties negated the play, and forced a re-kick, which turned into Tennessee’s only touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
Mariani took advantage of an opening near the left sideline when safety Anderson Russell fell to the ground injured.
“It’s special for me,” Mariani said. “It was very special to be able to jump-start us a little bit in the first quarter, get us on the board and get momentum turned in the right direction.”
The seventh-round draft pick out of Montana returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown Oct. 3 against Denver.
The last time the franchise had a player accomplish the kickoff-punt return touchdown double was 1977, when Billy “White Shoes” Johnson did it.
• Running back Chris Johnson averaged better than six yards per carry (6.2) when he rushed for 130 yards on 21 attempts.
In two games with Randy Moss as a part of the offense, he has rushed 38 times for 247 yards – an average of 6.5 per carry. In the seven games before Moss was claimed off waivers he topped six yards per carry just once and had an overall per carry average of 4.05 yards.
“I feel like (Moss) is helping us out a whole lot,” Johnson said.
• Wide receiver Nate Washington finished with better than 100 yards receiving for the second time in three games. He had a team-high five receptions for 117 yards.
Before he had 117 yards (on four catches) Oct. 31 at San Diego, his career-high was 94 yards in 2008 when he played for Pittsburgh.
• Former Titans’ defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth made one tackle in his return to LP Field. He stopped Johnson for a loss of four yards late in the second quarter.
“To be honest, it felt really, really strange sitting on the visitors sideline and looking at the guys warming up and the guys over there,” Haynesworth said. “I didn’t think it would be that different but it was.”
• With the first of his four field goals, kicker Rob Bironas extended to 20 – a franchise-record – his streak of consecutive games with at least one made field goal. Bironas had a streak of 19 straight over parts of 2006-07.