Hasselbeck's veteran presence could help Titans
By TERESA M. WALKER
AP Sports Writer
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Peyton Manning has yet to do more than watch from the sideline for Indianapolis. Rookie Blaine Gabbert is the starter in Jacksonville.
And now Matt Schaub is out, possibly for the season, in Houston.
That leaves veteran Matt Hasselbeck in Tennessee the last veteran starting at quarterback in the AFC South. Could that be the difference for the Titans in a division they have won only twice, last time in 2008?
Coach Mike Munchak will only say the Titans are happy that Hasselbeck is playing well. The Titans made signing the veteran for his 13th season their first priority after the NFL lockout ended in July. Now Hasselbeck is having one of his best seasons yet with the Titans (5-4), a game and a half behind the Houston Texans in the AFC South.
"All that matters to us is that we play well Sunday, or it won't matter who is playing for what team if we don't win football games," Munchak said.
The Titans visit Atlanta (5-4) on Sunday with a win closing the gap on idle Houston, and Hasselbeck need 188 yards to reach 32,000 yards passing for his career. The man who doesn't get credit for the year he spent on the Green Bay practice squad in 1998 has thrown for 2,233 yards with 14 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. He ranks behind Tom Brady of New England, Schaub and Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger in the AFC with an 89.1 passer rating.
Chris Johnson says Tennessee has the best quarterback in the division right now, hands down.
"He knows what to do and he comes in every day and works hard so he's a good leader. He shows other people how to be a pro," Johnson said.
Teaching rookie Jake Locker, the eighth pick overall, how to be an NFL quarterback was part of the reason Tennessee signed Hasselbeck. The Titans, with owner Bud Adams, also wanted to win now with only two winning seasons since 2005.
Hasselbeck lost his best receiver when Kenny Britt tore his right ACL on Sept. 25, but he keeps spreading the ball around, with 12 other players having at least one catch this season.
Johnson said the veteran is like having another coach on the field.
"He knows the whole playbook," Johnson said. "Some guys make a mistake and they might not run the right route or run it the right depth and even might make a mistake and not know where they're going on the play. He knows it all like the back of his hand."
Hasselbeck also knows the NFC very well after spending all his previous career in the conference. That could prove very helpful with the Titans in a three-game stretch against the NFC South, which started last week with a 30-3 win at Carolina. After the Titans visit the Falcons, they host Tampa Bay on Nov. 28, with New Orleans coming to town Dec. 11.
"I just think I have a comfort level with the NFC just because I know those guys," Hasselbeck said Thursday after practice. "I know the defensive coordinators and there's a lot less learning than has to go into the AFC teams."
He also played against Atlanta last year with Seattle in a loss. Falcons coach Mike Smith said he isn't surprised Hasselbeck has had such quick success with a new team.
"Matt is a veteran, been to a Pro Bowl," Smith said. "I think he has a very good understanding of the game of football. He knows how to distribute the ball, and he is doing a really good job this season."
Hasselbeck isn't the type to regale his new teammates with stories about why they need to play well in case the Texans stumble without Schaub. He credits Munchak with reminding the Titans of what's at stake each Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, and Hasselbeck said he might nod his head for emphasis.
"Munch at the halfway point used the example of this team last year. I think they were 5-2 at one point and probably feeling pretty good, and they didn't finish well," Hasselbeck said. "There's a great example of how it goes."
The Titans finished 2010 with a 6-10 record, which led to Munchak being promoted to head coach after Jeff Fisher left.
If Hasselbeck wanted, he could talk about how his Seahawks stayed alive last season and wound up winning the NFC West after a coaching change and a bunch of injuries.
"We were able to beat the odds, make it into the dance and beat the defending world champs at home and had a chance against Chicago," Hasselbeck said. "And if we had won that game, we would've been hosting the NFC championship against Green Bay. So it's crazy, but you're still in it as long as you're not mathematically out. You've just got to be playing your best football at the end of the year."
Notes: DE Dave Ball (concussion) did not practice, but did some running. LB Gerald McRath (hamstring) returned to practice after missing Wednesday but was limited along with LB Barrett Ruud (groin). LB Colin McCarthy (knee) did not practice.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.