For many Tennessee Titans it was a last chance to make a good impression.
Some players took advantage of that opportunity in Thursday night's 27-24 victory over the New Orleans Saints, while others' struggles were on display.
Now, the only thing the players can do is sit and wait and hope that what they showed in the finale and throughout the preseason was enough.
There were certainly enough opportunities Thursday night for both teams regarding roster bubble players, as the Titans rested a number of starters, including star running back Chris Johnson, while the Saints sat, among others, quarterback Drew Brees and running back Reggie Bush.
“I felt like I did as well as I could with what was given to me,” said running back Samkon Gado, who sits squarely on the roster bubble as cuts await. “There are a few plays I wish I could take back. They were mostly reads, and I have to look at the film to be able to see if I did make the right read.
“What's done is done, and you just have to wait and hope you don't get that phone call.”
Gado did his part, rushing for 63 yards on 13 carries. Perhaps the problem for him is that the chief competition – undrafted rookie LeGarrette Blount – was also impressive going for 59 yards on 15 carries, and pushing the pile several times with runs between the tackles.
“I've worked hard. I did everything I could do to showcase all of my skills,” Blount said. “I tried to showcase every skill they gave me a chance to showcase, and I hope it's enough.”
Of his ability to keep churning and gaining yards after contact, Blount said, “I always run with a purpose as a big running back. No matter how many people pile on me or how big the pile is, I'm going to continue to drive the pile. I was taught that as a kid. I'm almost 250 pounds, so that definitely helps when you come into a situation of fourth-and-1, third-and-2, to help push the pile.”
Running back wasn't the only place where the competition heated up as the preseason wound down.
Quarterback Chris Simms, believed to be in jeopardy with rookie Rusty Smith flashing a strong arm and potential upside, refused to go down without a fight.
Simms turned in his best performance of the preseason, hitting on 4 of 7 passes for 86 yards, including a nice 41-yard throw to rookie Marc Mariani. But there was also another possession that ended in red zone fumble on the exchange by Simms, which left him feeling mixed about his performance.
“I'm pleased with what I did, but I'm also subtly frustrated too. It was frustrating too because we had two other drives going that got screwed up by a few mistakes. It was a good night that could have been great,” Simms said. “It was good to come out here and play and kind of put your best foot forward. That's all you can do, and we'll see where it goes from there.”
Once Simms exited, the Titans gave the rookie Smith his chance, and he responded with the best pass play of the night, firing a 45-yard strike to Dominique Edison that would have been at touchdown had Edison not stepped out of bounds at the 12-yard line.
Like Simms, Smith hopes he has shown enough to warrant a spot on the 53-man roster.
“I was very pleased with that. I just put it in a spot where he could catch it and run with it, and he did the rest,” Smith said. “I don't know what they're thinking. I don't know exactly what they're looking for, so I did everything I could do to show them what I can do, and I hope it's enough.”
At least two Titans defensive backs needed to show more in their final auditions, as each allowed the Saints to block a punt. One block, made by New Orleans' Junior Galette, was returned for a touchdown by Harry Coleman in the second quarter. Galette made his way past Nick Schommer and made a clean break for punt Brett Kern's foot.
According to rookie safety Robert Johnson, who allowed Anthony Waters to block the second punt, his overcompensation for what happened on the first punt to Schommer led to the second block. That turnover led to a Saints field goal.
“The first one was blocked, and somebody told me he went to the outside,” Johnson said. “So I tried to protect the outside, and he went inside. I turned around and tried my hardest to stop them from scoring and they wound up getting three points. When we watch film, it's gonna look kind of bad, and I just have to accept the badness of it.”
While Johnson said he won't worry about the play, there will be plenty for he and many other Titans to ponder as cuts loom over the next 24 to 48 hours.