Will Witherspoon did not see the decision about whether to play football Sunday, five days after the unexpected death of his mother, as a difficult one. In fact, the way he saw it he had no choice.
“I’m honoring what my mother would have wanted me to do,” Witherspoon said following the Tennessee Titans’ 38-13 victory over the Oakland Raiders at LP Field. “I’ve had to focus on my family and make sure they were OK – that’s what I did first. And all of them were pushing me and saying, ‘You know, it’s what she would have wanted you to do.”
Witherspoon missed the week’s primary workouts and rejoined the team late Saturday night, hours after the funeral. The free agent acquisition made six tackles and a sack in his Titans’ debut. Afterward, coach Jeff Fisher presented him a game ball.
“You go through a lot of things over your career, but this was one of the most courageous days I’ve ever seen out of a player, Will Witherspoon,” Fisher said. “To have not practiced all week and to have buried his mom late Saturday … and play the way he did, my hat is off to Will Witherspoon.”
• Roster wrangling: Wide receiver Lavelle Hawkins was one of the most talked-about Titans (in a good way) during the offseason. Against the Raiders he was in street clothes, one of eight players deemed inactive in order for the team to reach the 45-man roster limit for games.
Among those who played ahead of him were rookies Marc Mariani and Damian Williams.
The decision was dictated by special teams needs. Mariani handled all punt and kickoff returns for the day, and Williams – presumably – was the backup because, Jeff Fisher said, coaches did not want running back Javon Ringer to have to do any returns.
“We’ve chosen to keep (Ringer) off that,” Fisher said.
Also inactive were safeties Robert Johnson and Nick Schommer, linebacker Rennie Currans, offensive linemen Mike Otto and Ryan Durand, defensive end William Hayes and emergency, third-string quarterback Rusty Smith.
• Not so funny: Derrick Morgan, the Titans’ first round draft pick said he laughed when he took the field prior to kickoff at the realization that he was about to play his first NFL contest.
Not so humorous was the fact that officials ruled his first career sack was the result of an illegal hit below the quarterback’s knees. Morgan got credit for the sack, but rather than force a punt, the play resulted in a first down for the Raiders.
“I was just going and trying to get the quarterback,” he said. “I wasn’t thinking about going low or trying to get to his legs or anything. We were just playing football.”
• Still streaking: In rushing for 142 yards, Chris Johnson broke a tie with Marcus Allen for the second-longest streak of consecutive 100-yard rushing games in NFL history.
The streak now stands at 12, two shy of Barry Sanders’ league record.
“I feel like that if I do my job … in any game I can get over 100,” Johnson said. “I’m really not going into any game right now thinking about records, making sure I get over 100 and this and that.
“My main focus is winning.”
• Good as advertised: Linebackers Patrick Bailey and Tim Shaw were claimed off waivers a week earlier with the idea that they would bolster the Titans’ special teams.
Each made one tackle (Shaw also had an assist) on the coverage units.
“(They) certainly helped us,” Fisher said. “… I was pleased with the special teams’ performance.”