NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Tennessee quarterback Marcus Mariota will miss the Titans' home finale Sunday with Houston with a sprained MCL in his right knee.
Whether Mariota is done for the season has yet to be decided, though interim coach Mike Mularkey said the Titans will err on the side of caution.
Mularkey said Monday that Mariota will be re-evaluated after the Texans' game with the rookie wanting to play the season finale at Indianapolis on Jan. 3. But Mularkey said Mariota has not been ruled out of the finale with an injury that is less serious than the sprained left knee that kept the quarterback out of two games earlier this season.
''Certainly if there's any issues, if we have any concerns as we did (Sunday), we would not play him,'' Mularkey said. ''If there's any way he was going to not be capable of playing, no way.''
Mariota was hurt when sacked for the third time at 10:32 of the second quarter in a 33-16 loss at New England. Mularkey said the rookie wanted to return against the Patriots, but the Titans chose to protect Mariota by keeping him on the sideline.
The rookie has thrown for 2,818 yards with 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions despite being sacked 38 times this season. He is completing 62.2 percent of his passes and has a 91.5 passer rating.
Playing Mariota gives the rookie precious game experience if he proves a fast healer. If Mariota doesn't play again this season, Mularkey said the rookie easily has exceeded expectations in a debut year featuring a head coaching change, six different starting offensive line combinations and injuries forcing lineup changes.
''What guys won't do for years, he's had in his rookie year,'' Mularkey said of Mariota. ''Again, he's never flinched, he's never said, `Woe is me that I don't' have this or this has changed.' He's just been steady, and he's learned a lot, learned a lot in this one season alone.
Zach Mettenberger, 0-8 as a starter, will start against Houston (7-7) for his fourth start in two seasons against the AFC South rival. The Texans sacked Mettenberger seven times and hit him seven other times Nov. 1, prompting ownership to fire Ken Whisenhunt two days later.
With Mariota out, the Titans (3-11) likely will sign Mike Kafka off the practice squad after signing the quarterback last week. Mularkey said protecting the quarterback is a primary concern.
''Obviously, we'll make some adjustments, so it doesn't happen again,'' Mularkey said.
Mettenberger threw for 242 yards with two touchdowns but was intercepted twice in the fourth quarter in New England.
''He did some really good things, there's some things I know he'd like to take back and he's got to quit doing trying to force some of the deeper throws when they're not there,'' Mularkey said of Mettenberger.
The Titans return home from a two-game road trip with consecutive losses in a tough stretch with Sunday the only home game in the final month. They still hold the No. 1 draft pick for 2016, something this franchise hasn't had since trading with Tampa Bay for the selection in 1978.
They could play a spoiler role in the AFC South and better yet finish with a .500 record in the struggling division by winning out.
''Why not ruin it for somebody else who can?'' wide receiver Kendall Wright said. ''That's the best part about it.''
Notes: Mularkey said the Titans are discussing whether to bench center Andy Gallik for veteran Joe Looney. ... Wright, who has missed the past two games, said he hopes to play Sunday despite having two broken ribs. Safety Da'Norris Searcy hopes to practice Wednesday after missing the last game with an injured hamstring.
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