Hasselbeck gives Titan fans overdue glimpse of new NFL

Friday, October 7, 2011, Vol. 35, No. 40

Is it really possible to have a career year at age 36? You wouldn’t think so, but Matt Hasselbeck is on pace to do just that.

Hasselbeck was signed by the Tennessee Titans, once the lockout ended, to mentor first-round pick Jake Locker and play until the rookie is ready for the starting job.

Now Hasselbeck has exceeded all expectations, throwing for 1,152 yards in his first four games as a Titan despite being unable to work in the offseason with offensive coordinator Chris Palmer or his receivers. His best receiver, Kenny Britt, was lost in the third game to a season-ending knee injury.

Hasselbeck’s production has been so impressive, in fact, that the Titans are on pace for their most passing yards in a season since the heyday of the run and shoot with Warren Moon, when the Houston Oilers averaged 288 yards per game passing during the 1991 season. Hasselbeck’s is matching that team’s 288 yards per game through the first quarter of the season.

The Titans hadn’t even thrown for 200 yards in a game since 2009, and with Vince Young and Kerry Collins taking turns at the controls, Tennessee passed for an average of 194.2 yards per game last season.

Though it is always tough to project how an offense will do for an entire season, Hasselbeck is on pace for the first 4,000-yard passing season of his 13-year NFL career. His current 104.7 passer rating, if maintained, would be the highest of his career. His highest passer rating in the past three seasons was 75.1.

All this seems to indicate the Titans have finally caught up to the rest of the NFL in using the passing game as the driving force of their offense.

Under Palmer, Hasselbeck and coach Mike Munchak, the days of three yards and a cloud of field goals might finally be gone.

That’s not to say that the Titans wouldn’t take a 175-yard rushing day from Chris Johnson. They would welcome it. But the truth is, the way things have gone thus far in 2011, they are much more likely to get a 300-yard passing game than have a big day running the football.

Munchak, for one, says he is not surprised that Hasselbeck has done what he has done thus far. In Seattle, he often operated behind a suspect offensive line, but is playing behind a veteran group with the Titans as he has only been sacked four times this far.

“I’m not really surprised. We brought him here thinking that he was going to be a difference maker. That was our thinking behind it from the beginning and hoping that he would be,” Munchak says.

“Watching the film I watched last year of him playing, I thought ‘Man, this guy is playing well,’ and he won some big games, and he is doing the things for us that we hoped he would.”

For a Titans team that was in shambles before the lockout, it is amazing to consider how quickly the passing game has come together.

“You never know how fast things are going to come together when you bring all different guys together that have never worked together and new coaches, but having a guy like him has made the process a lot easier for us,” Munchak says.

Hasselbeck is showing the savvy of a veteran and putting on display all the things he learned over the years, beginning with time in Green Bay under Mike Holmgren and backing up Brett Favre. Hasselbeck says he cherishes that time, soaking in all he could as a young quarterback.

“I always felt like when I got drafted to the Green Bay Packers in ‘98, and Ron Wolf was there (as GM), and Mike Holmgren was the head coach, and Andy Reid was there as the quarterbacks coach, it felt like the Harvard Business School for a young quarterback,” Hasselbeck says.

“They were paying me to be on their practice squad, but I really felt like I should have been paying them.”

Those years of learning are paying off for Hasselbeck and the Titans, as the offense that has shown the ability to be more explosive than in any of the past five to six years.

“As for offense, I think we have done a good job all year,” Hasselbeck says. “There are things that we do well and things we need to work on, but big plays and explosive gains are something that we have done well.”

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com and is the AFC blogger for National Football Post.