After Sunday's embarrassing loss to the Indianapolis Colts, no Titans player was more outwardly angry about the result than wide receiver Nate Washington.
The receiver used a couple of choice words, and harped on the Titans for making mental mistakes that helped to hand the Colts their first win of the season after 13 straight losses.
For Washington, it was unacceptable. Even though there is the “24-hour rule” in the NFL to celebrate a victory or move on from a loss, Washington hasn't forgotten, and won't until the Titans kick off against Jacksonville on Saturday.
“I'm speaking personally on this, but I won't get over that until we play this game on Saturday. That motivates me for the week and my work ethic throughout the week,” Washington said. “I know we have a 24-hour rule, but I still have in my mind as bad as we played last week. That said, it gives me motivation to come out against Jacksonville and give everything you've got.”
When the Titans signed Washington to a six-year, $27 million package in 2009 ($9 million guaranteed), he had been the third receiver in Pittsburgh. Through his first two years in Tennessee, he had not fulfilled the expectations on the field that came with a pricey contract. Washington had 47 catches in '09 and 42 last season, hardly the type of production the Titans thought they were paying for.
But this season, Washington is earning his money and earning lots of respect inside the Titans locker room not only for his play, but his leadership. He has 66 receptions for 860 yards and six touchdowns, with much of his production coming even after Kenny Britt was lost with a torn ACL. Numbers like 75 catches and 1,000 yards receiving are not out of the question at all.
“He's done well. We've been bragging on him. He's been just like we hoped he would be. When Kenny went out, he's been stepping up in that room. Even before that, Kenny went to him for advice throughout the advice,” Titans coach Mike Munchak said. “He's been a real plus for us. He's turned into a real good leader on the team and has come a long way in one year.”
In the past, Washington was comfortable just being one of the guys. He would often be seen in the locker room joking around with Vince Young, Chris Johnson, Britt and others and enjoying the NFL life. It wasn't that he and others didn't work, but Washington knows he could have worked harder at his craft and at inspiring others.
An off-season reality check that began with the birth of his daughter, shifted Washington into a different mode. He is still close with his teammates, but much of the clowning and chatter have been replaced by a stronger dedication to his craft.
“I've learned to grow a passion for this game. I've taken this thing for granted too long. I've seen what type of team we can have if we play up to our expectations, and it's frustrating for me. I'm an emotional guy. I'm not afraid to say it. That loss (Sunday) definitely hurt me,” Washington said.
The seven-year veteran admits that the criticisms of his game stung him and forced him to reflect on his situation.
“I was just tired, no disrespect to the media, but the criticism from the media, the community and family and friends. It was just a pack of guys running together, and somebody had to step out and make sure that they're being a leader, with the weight room, coming in for film sessions and all that,” Washington said. “I felt like we could have given a little more in the past, and I didn't want anything else to go by where that was the reason why.
"There was no leader or maybe guys weren't working or caring enough like they were supposed to. I wanted everybody to know that there is somebody that cares and there is somebody who is going to work extremely hard to push this team through everything we can get through.”
Teammates have taken notice of his newfound dedication.
“He's the old guy now. I think this year, he kind of assumed that (leader) position. He had to, and with Kenny going out as well, he had to step up because he had a bunch of guys around him that weren't used to playing. He came in to his role and I think he's played it perfectly,” receiver Damian Williams said.
Added quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who has come in from the outside to be a team leader himself, “And I think this year with Kenny being out, Nate has had to kind of shoulder that load and be that guy and also be more vocal and be somebody that in tough situations, we turn to and we go to.”
Munchak sees a more mature player as well and one who has grown into a leadership role.
“I think he's enjoying his role. I think he realizes, 'I am one of the guys on the team that these guys are responding to,'” Munchak said. “I think, even on the defensive side of the ball, he's influencing guys in a positive way. We're very happy with that he's done on the field and off the field for us.”
Washington said it was analyzing who he was and what he needed to be that changed course for him.
“It was really a self-realization. I've had an addition to my family with my daughter, just really a self-realization. I've looked myself in the mirror many times this year that in the past I hadn't,” he said. “I was just that guy that was ready to get through. But looking at myself in the mirror I realized how much I could be better, how much I can be a leader on this team and how much these guys look to me to be a leader.
“I'm not going to lead them down the dark alley. I feel like this could not only be a good team, but a great team, and if I'm not pushing them in the right direction, who's going to do it? I'm not gonna rely on anybody else to push us in that direction. I'm going to put it on myself. If they follow, then they follow. If not, so be it. But I'm going to lead us down the brightest street we can walk down, not a dark alley.”