MINNEAPOLIS — As meaningless preseason finales go, Thursday night's Tennessee Titans 24-23 loss to the Minnesota Vikings at the Metrodome was rather entertaining for awhile.
The Titans offense at least thought so, scoring on every drive of the first half in the game.
Starting quarterback Jake Locker directed a scoring drive on his only work of the night, an opening series that led to a 28-yard field goal by Rob Bironas.
It was exactly what head coach Mike Munchak wanted to see – except settling for the field goal rather than a touchdown.
“We started off the way we hoped. We ran the ball well, but we just didn’t finish off the first drive,”I think we had about 17 or 18 plays on that drive. That’s the kind of team we want to be this year,” Munchak said. “The offense did a nice job scoring all three times we had the ball.”
Locker wound up 3 of 5 for 31 yards on the drive, directing the first-team offense that was missing several parts, including Kenny Britt, Chris Johnson, Nate Washington and Shonn Greene.
“It was good to get in. We got a lot of plays and had a good drive and ate a lot of the clock,” Locker said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get in the end zone on that one, but it was good to move the ball the way we did and get that comfortable feeling so that we’re ready for next week against Pittsburgh.”
Jackie Battle started at running back and was a workhorse for Tennessee, getting 10 carries for 38 yards in the game before giving way to Jalen Parmele.
After Locker exited, backup Ryan Fitzpatrick did get the Titans into the end zone, directing a 12-play, 80-yard drive and finishing it was a 17-yard touchdown pass to rookie Justin Hunter. Fitzpatrick was 5 of 5 for 61 yards on his night's work before giving way to Rusty Smith for the remainder of the game. Smith also had a TD drive on his first series, hitting Jack Doyle for a two-yard score.
While the offense clicked in the first half, the defense was back to its inconsistent ways, surrendering two touchdown drives to Minnesota in the first half – one by second-teamer Matt Cassel, who started for Christian Ponder at quarterback and the other by McLeod Bethel-Thompson as the Vikings trailed 17-14 at the half.
“I would have liked to see the defense get a stop on that drive before the half. We’re doing some good things at times, but the young guys have to get some more stops,” Munchak said.
Middle linebacker Moise Fokou said the defense will have to continue to work and get better by the season opener in Pittsburgh on Sept. 8.
“We kind of started a little slow, but it was good for the first team to come out and go mano a mano with another club,” Fokou said. “We have to put our focus now on the Steelers and get ready for this season to get started.
“The defense is going to be good as long as we continue to put the work into it. It is only going to be what we make it. We have to continue to study, continue to work hard, come to work with a great attitude, and try to be that championship defense we want to be. It’s not going to be easy, and we have to put a lot of work into it.”
It didn't take long for Minnesota to take the lead back, as Marcus Sherels returned the second-half kickoff 109 yards against the Titans for a touchdown.
Tennessee's remaining scores came courtesy of Bironas, who connected on field goals of 29 yards in the third quarter and 24 yards in the fourth quarter as the Titans grabbed a 23-21 lead, before Blair Walsh's field goal with 1:38 to play gave the Vikings the lead.
The Titans ended the preseason at 1-3, missing out on a chance to put together a last-ditch drive when Brian Schwenkie's snap to Rusty Smith was low and recovered by the Vikings with 53 seconds to play.
Final cuts are due Saturday afternoon when the roster must be trimmed from 75 players to 53.
After cuts are made, the focus then shifts to the regular season and the Steelers. Locker is confident the Titans are ready for the opener.
“I think that’s the goal of the preseason, to get comfortable and understand what you like, what works for you. Just be ready to go when the season starts, and that’s what we’ve done I think,” he said.
Walker, McCarthy return
While several Titans players did not play in the preseason finale, it marked the debut for two key players.
Kenny Britt and Shonn Greene did not even make the trip, while Chris Johnson, Nate Washington and Derrick Morgan were among the Titans who did not play Thursday night.
Tight end Delanie Walker, who just came off PUP recently due to having his knee scoped, it marked his debut as a Titan.
“It felt good. I just wanted to get out there, get my feet going and break a sweat,” Walker said. “I wanted to see if my knee could take it. Going against the guys in practice, I knew they were being easy on me, but these guys weren’t easy on me. The knee held up fine, and I feel great.”
Linebacker Colin McCarthy finally made his preseason debut as well after a hamstring injury caused him to miss the first three games.
McCarthy got plenty of work, however, as he entered the game in the first half and played middle linebacker the remainder of the time.
Seventh-round pick Daimon Stafford, who has missed some time with a hamstring injury, is making up for lost time. He had an interception and a fumble recovery in the second half. The fumble recovery stopped the Vikings in the red zone. It was forced by linebacker Gary Guyton.
Up and down
Tight end Jack Doyle, an undrafted free agent from Western Kentucky, had an up-and-down night. Doyle caught a 2-yard TD pass from Rusty Smith and had five catches for 48 yards. But he also lost a fumble and could not come up with what would have been a tough catch for a second score in the second half.