NASHVILLE, Tenn. —Zach Mettenberger's teammates applauded his effort, but the Titans quarterback didn't want to hear any of it.
In his mind, he let them down on Sunday.
"Honestly, it is a 'What can you do for me?' business,'' Mettenberger said after Sunday's 10-7 loss to the Falcons. "And I haven't been able to return the favor and get those guys a win. (The defense) played their butts off today and that's what hurts the most. We couldn't make enough plays offensively to get the win to help those guys out."
Starting for an injured Marcus Mariota, Mettenberger completed 22-of-35 passes for 187 yards and a touchdown against the Falcons, but he was intercepted twice in critical situations.
The throw that haunts Mettenberger the most after the team's fifth straight loss: his final pass of the game. It was intercepted by Falcons safety Robenson Therezie with just 1:31 left in the contest. It ended the team's hopes of tying, or possible winning, the game.
"It was a poor decision by me,'' Mettenberger said afterward. "I should have hit Delanie (Walker) underneath. In that situation all we needed was to get 12 yards and get in field goal range to push it into overtime. It was just a bone-headed mistake by me to not fully grasp the situation."
The play occurred on a second-and-5 from the Atlanta 42, with the Titans trailing 10-7. After the Titans got the ball at their own 37 with 2:28 left, Mettenberger quickly completed three straight passes to get the Titans on the move.
He was throwing to receiver Kendall Wright, but instead he found Therezie.
"I was just sticking to the quarterback,'' Therezie said. "We had a zone pressure going on and I know he had to get it out real quick. I just read the quarterback and I was just right there."
Mettenberger kicked himself again and again when asked about it.
"Maybe if I make a better throw maybe Kendall gets it,'' he said. "But at the end of the day it was just a poor decision by me to not take Delanie underneath."
Mettenberger, in his first start since last season, had his moments – good and bad.
He connected with Wright earlier in the game on a 19-yard touchdown to give the Titans a 7-0 lead, and at one stretch at the end of the first half he was slinging it all over the field, finding open receivers left and right.
Early in the game, he nearly connected with receiver Justin Hunter on a 50-yard bomb, but Hunter dropped the ball.
"I felt like Zach came in and stepped in for Marcus, and he took control of the huddle,'' Hunter said. "I thought he made some good plays for us."
"I thought Zach did as much as he could,'' Walker said. "He played great today, and took advantage of the opportunity he was given. He did a great job."
Titans tackle Taylor Lewan defended Mettenberger after the game.
"That interception is not indicative of his game,'' Lewan said. "Zach Mettenberger is a great quarterback; he can easily start for any of these 32 teams, and can easily start on this team. If anyone is going to bounce back from an interception it will be this guy. When you see someone having a tough one you can either point fingers or pick him up. He is doing a heck of a job."
Mettenberger had bad luck – and a Falcons defender – hit him just before halftime, when the Titans had a chance to build on a 7-3 lead.
But on a second-and-goal from the Atlanta six-yard line with 18 seconds left, Mettenberger was intercepted by Falcons linebacker Paul Worrilow. Mettenberger was hit as he threw the football, leaving Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt upset – replays showed Falcons defensive end Adrian Clayton hit Mettenberger's facemask on the play.
Afterward, Mettenberger called the play "unfortunate."
On the day, the Titans went just 1-of-9 on third down, something Mettenberger called "inexcusable."
"He made some good throws early and we didn't catch the football,'' Whisenhunt said of Mettenberger. "There's always things you're going to want back as a quarterback, but he handled the process. As we all saw there is probably a couple of throws he would like to have back."
It remains to be seen whether Mariota will be ready to return for next week's game at Houston.
Mettenberger said he'll continue to prepare as if he'll be the guy behind center. After losing in his six starts a year ago as the starter, he'd love a chance to help turn things around. He's now 0-7 as a starter.
"It's tough,'' Mettenberger said. "Like I said earlier in the week it doesn't matter who is out there pulling the trigger, you are expected to make plays and win the game and unfortunately I wasn't the guy our team needed. … The only thing we can do now is get back in there and get ready for Houston.
"If I get the opportunity again hopefully I can make the most of it and play better."