The Titans might not be ready to make it official just yet, but it is coming.
Rookie middle linebacker Colin McCarthy needs to be the starter for the remainder of the season and beyond.
McCarthy has played the past three games (two starts) for the Titans while Barrett Ruud has nursed a groin injury.
Ruud was signed to a one-year contract just after the lockout ended and was expected to at least hold the position this season while the Titans evaluated what they had in McCarthy, a fourth-round pick from the University of Miami.
Now 11 games into the season, the Titans can be certain that what they have in McCarthy: a playmaker who is seemingly always around the football creating havoc.
There are two types of defensive players -- some who find the football, and others whom the football finds. In that regard, McCarthy is certainly of the former variety.
In three games filling in for Ruud, McCarthy has posted 32 tackles, including five for losses. He forced a fumble Nov. 20 against the Falcons. On Sunday against the Buccaneers, he not only recovered a fumble, but he also picked up his first career interception.
That pickoff of a Josh Freeman pass in the fourth quarter all but put the game into the win column for the Titans, who were nursing a 20-17 lead at the time with just under three minutes to play. He stepped in front of Kellen Winslow, and as he turned, the ball came right to him.
"It's a play we went through in practice," said McCarthy, who has proven to be a quick study in the meeting rooms and has played the past two weeks despite missing practice time with a sore knee. "Early in the game, they kind of did that 10 yards and just sat there, so it was just a matter of time before they did the shake and tried to hit us deep.
"Coach (Jerry) Gray had a great game plan. We went over it this week. When they throw it to you, you've just got to catch it."
It is also telling just what the Titans are doing in that they allow McCarthy to make the defensive calls and also now are keeping him and fellow rookie Akeem Ayers on the field in the nickel package, bringing veteran Will Witherspoon to the sideline in passing situations.
The Titans had hoped to use the 2011 draft to shore up their weak linebacking corps, and it appears that they have done so with the two rookies, both of whom are playing key roles.
Ayers was expected to contribute all along, but the Titans are no doubt pleased that McCarthy has arrived ahead of schedule.
UNDER THE RADAR
The Titans ran for a season-high 202 yards, with Chris Johnson getting 190 of that, all the while using backup Mike Otto in place of injured right tackle Dave Stewart. Otto's only other career start came as an extra tight end when the Titans were short-handed at that position.
BY THE NUMBERS
20 percent -- The Buccaneers' third-down conversion rate Sunday (2-for-10), while the Titans succeeded on 50 percent (7-for-14).
C Eugene Amano got a rarity, catching a deflected pass for a 7-yard gain Sunday. He said it was his first reception since he played tight end as a high school freshman.
QB Matt Hasselbeck completed a left-handed toss to Ahmard Hall for a 10-yard gain while under duress from a pass rush. Hasselbeck had a rough day with two picks, but he did manage to throw the game-winning touchdown pass to Damian Williams on fourth-and-goal at the 2.
RB Chris Johnson ran for 190 yards, easily a season high, on 23 carries. He averaged 8.3 yards per carry after entering the game with a 3.2-yard average. However, he did lose a fumble.
RT David Stewart sat out Sunday's game with a calf injury suffered the previous week against the Falcons.
DE Dave Ball returned after missing two games with a concussion and had a big day. He had two sacks and forced and recovered a fumble on one of them.
TE Jared Cook suffered what looked to be a concussion late in the game when three Bucs hit him on an incomplete pass on the goal line.
CB Tommie Campbell took a handoff from Marc Mariani on a kickoff return and zoomed 84 yards for a touchdown. Campbell later left t