Titans QB preparing for 9th start in career, 4th vs. Texans

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) At some point, the odds are going to turn in Zach Mettenberger's favor.

The second-year Tennessee Titans quarterback is preparing for his ninth NFL start with Marcus Mariota out with a sprained right knee, leaving Mettenberger to play against the Houston Texans on Sunday.

It will be Mettenberger's fourth start vs. the Texans in his very short career.

''That's just the situation I've been put in,'' Mettenberger said Wednesday. ''It's always a great opportunity to go against an AFC South team. Hopefully this time, we can play well, play efficiently and get a win.''

That would be something different for Mettenberger, who as an NFL starting quarterback is 0-8. It will be a challenge getting that first win this week; the Titans have just five wins since drafting him in the sixth round out of LSU last year.

Facing two-time Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt three times certainly hasn't helped either. The first start of Mettenberger's career came against Houston, and Watt mocked the rookie's social media habits by taking a faux selfie after sacking the quarterback last year.

Mettenberger is a year older and believes he's a bit wiser too.

''I've realized there's a right way and a wrong way to do things,'' Mettenberger said. ''That's just part of life, learning from past mistakes and growing. To be where I want to be, I've definitely got to be a mature leader of the team. I think I'm getting to that point.''

Mettenberger could be forgiven if he flinches a bit at the mere mention of the Texans (7-7). Houston sacked him seven times and hit him seven more times Nov. 1 in beating the Titans 20-6 in Texas, a loss that cost Ken Whisenhunt his job Tennessee's head coach. Whitney Mercilus got to Mettenberger for 3 1/2 sacks, while Watt had 2 1/2 himself.

But Mettenberger has completed 68.1 percent of his passes against the Texans for 654 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions. Last week, Mettenberger came off the bench in the second quarter in New England when Mariota sprained his knee, and the backup completed a career-best 71.4 percent of his passes going 20 of 28 for a season-high 242 yards with two touchdowns.

Texans coach Bill O'Brien is very familiar with Mettenberger too because Houston studied the quarterback and met with him before the 2014 draft.

''A very bright football player,'' O'Brien said. ''It's a big challenge for us. There are obvious differences between him and Marcus. Marcus is a tremendous quarterback also and has a tremendous running ability. Obviously, Zach is more of a drop-back quarterback and that's probably the biggest difference, but both guys are really good and obviously, we're preparing for Zach.''

Unfortunately, Mettenberger also was intercepted twice in the 33-16 loss to New England - both in the fourth quarter. Interim head coach Mike Mularkey has been reminding Mettenberger not to be so confident in his strong right arm and move onto the next option when defenses take away the quarterback's first receiver.

Seeing Mettenberger win his first game as a starter also would be very nice for the Titans (3-11).

''He's played a number of games now, obviously hasn't won one yet and needs to get one under his belt. It's kind of one of those streaks everybody keeps talking about. Do it and get it over with and hopefully get on another kind of streak, and that's winning them.''

Notes: Delanie Walker, who could become the franchise's first 1,000-yard receiver at tight end, is a first alternate to the Pro Bowl. He refused to go to the game last year, but Walker said so many people told him he should go that he will play if called this time. ... WR Kendall Wright (broken ribs) returned to practice Wednesday for the first time after missing the past two games. S Da'Norris Searcy (hamstring) also returned to practice, and both were limited.

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Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker

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