NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Coaches, players, media and fans all love a quarterback who will stand up and take more than his share of the blame, just so long as "my bad" doesn’t become the inscription on his football card.
It was huge in the career of the best quarterback the Titans have had in Tennessee: Steve McNair.
McNair quickly raised his hand regarding his mistakes. He also worked to publicly take the blame when routes were botched or balls were dropped or blocks were missed; things that were in no way his fault.
Three starts into his career, we have no idea if Zach Mettenberger can be an NFL starter for a long period. We also have very little on which to base his willingness to accept fault as a franchise frontman.
But the very early indications are good.
Mettenberger’s third-and-6 pass in the middle to a crossing Kendall Wright from the Titans' 36-yard line may not have produced a first down Monday night in the loss to Pittsburgh. But it fell incomplete when Wright couldn’t pull in a throw that was behind him but catchable.
Later in the fourth, Mettenberger threw a screen to the left too low for Wright. Wright wouldn’t have gained much if he pulled it in, but he let it fall to the ground despite getting both hands on it.
After the game, the quarterback fielded a question about the drops.
“It was bad throws on me,” he said. “That’s not his fault at all. The one screen was low. ... The drag was behind him. I’ve got to do a better job getting him more catchable balls. Obviously, we’ve seen what he can do with a ball in his hand. I’ve got to make it easier on him.”
That kind of talk scores big in a lot of places, the most significant one being in the locker room. It was notably different than Robert Griffin III’s comments after Washington’s bad loss to Tampa Bay on Sunday, when he spoke about how the guys around a quarterback need to play well for a quarterback to play well. (Of course the context is different for Mettenberger, a sixth-round rookie, and RG III, the second overall pick who’s in his third year.)
As for accepting fault:
“That’s part of my job, it’s something Coach Cam [Cameron at LSU] taught me: ‘You have big shoulders, use them,’” Mettenberger said. “... Shouldering the blame, that’s my job, I can take it. I’ve been in a lot of situations in my life where it wasn’t looking good for me. I’d rather take the blame than maybe some guy who mentally can’t handle it and it can put him in the jar.
“So I guess I’m a guy who kind of shoulders the blame.”
Titans tight end Delanie Walker has an appreciation for the approach.
“Quarterbacks, they’ve got to be the quarterback and they’ve got to be the blame guy," Walker said. "It’s good that he understands that as young as he is, not pointing a finger and just taking the blame.
“When you’re the quarterback, any mistake a receiver or tight end will make, [fans and media] are going to blame it on the quarterback. He understands that. For him not to go and point fingers, that’s what you need in the quarterback. He’s a leader in the making.”
With a quarterback who does anything perceived as finger pointing, “The loyalty to him won’t be there,” Walker said. “You can’t trust him, you don’t know what he’s going to say to the media or how he’s going to react to us telling him, ‘You need to throw a better ball.’ How he is now, that’s what you ask for.”
The most recent young quarterbacks the Titans have turned to didn’t score too highly in that department.
Vince Young found fault in a lot of other people and was far more sensitive than self-critical. Jake Locker was opposite of Young in a lot of ways, which is a big part of why he was drafted. But he didn’t rush to acknowledge some of his deficiencies, like his inaccuracy. That was a topic that made him bristle at questions instead of taking on responsibility to an obvious flaw of which his teammates were well aware.
Ultimately, as each of those guys struggled, the criticism and willingness to find fault with themselves faded and they became increasingly defensive about their performances. In that circumstance, they were hardly willing to take on additional blame for problems that might not have actually belonged to them.
Human nature pushes guys in that direction. That’s part of what makes the arc of the QB growth curve so important. A young quarterback has to show signs that he can be productive and handle all facets of the job before the criticism that comes with early struggles can wear him down.
It’s like a race.
The winners all end up in the same place, according to Titans reserve quarterback Charlie Whitehurst.
“Everybody that’s successful for a long time in the league at that position talks like that, is accountable,” he said. “Everybody. I mean like 100 percent. I think everybody has noticed that about him. That’s how you need to be.
“A lot of the information that comes from the team, it’s the head coach and the quarterback. Not just the fans read that, but the team reads that, too. That’s the way it should be for the betterment of the team.”
“I think you assume everybody’s like that at the position. I think the surprise is when a guy’s not like that.”