It was like the difference between a pitcher and a thrower.
From the moment Jake Locker took the field Sunday — with 2:57 to go in the third quarter, to be exact — he was throwing fastballs. There was an undeniable zip on the ball every time it left his hand.
And he got the offense moving. It was not enough for the Tennessee Titans to overcome a 20-point deficit, but they got close before they eventually fell 23-17 to the Atlanta Falcons.
Likewise, that performance will not — and should not — put him on the fast track to becoming the starting quarterback.
“I thought [Locker] played great,” Matt Hasselbeck, the current starter, said. “He has been practicing well and playing well. I’ve said many times, that I think he has a real bright future. It was fun to see.”
The important thing is for him to remain a part of the future rather than the man of the moment, if at all possible. Of course, the elbow injury that sidelined Hasselbeck and led to Locker’s insertion will determine whether or not that is the case.
The reality is that the Titans are now two games behind the Houston Texans with six to go. If they are going to overcome that deficit, which includes a head-to-head defeat against Houston, they’re going to need some savvy under center.
After all, at 5-5 they have shown they are not a great team. They’re not going to win games simply by overpowering people.
In a lot of ways, Hasselbeck has looked rejuvenated in getting them to this point. The challenge of integrating himself into a new locker room and a new scheme has put a pep in his step. We know now, though, that it has not put a lot of pop back into his arm.
We’ve seen him throw 337 passes and with the wisdom born of 13 years in the league, more than 11 as a starter, he has shown he knows where to go with the ball. He’s like a pitcher who has lost some steam on his fastball but locates his throws and gets the job done in an effective, efficient manner.
Hasselbeck has completed more than 60 percent of his throws and set a personal best of having thrown at least one touchdown pass in each of the first nine games. That streak ended against the Falcons.
Maybe he did not throw the ball to the right receiver or exactly on target but he threw it hard. That was true on all 19 of his attempts, two of which resulted in touchdowns, and was all the more apparent in how different it was than Hasselbeck.
The kid can flat out bring it. He’s not Nuke LaLoosh, the Tim Robbins character in Bull Durham who had no clue where the ball was going, but he is not as precise as Hasselbeck.
Even on this day, Hasselbeck was one completion better than 50 percent whereas Locker was one completion below 50 percent.
“There is a lot of adrenaline involved in that,” Locker said. “… I’ve just done my best to prepare as well as I could for when I got that opportunity so I could take advantage of it.
“I felt pretty comfortable with what we were doing. We were able to go out there and play backyard football. We got some good calls and guys ran some good routes and … made some good plays.”
Backyard football is fun for a while but it only will take a team so far. Vince Young essentially never graduated from a backyard approach during his five seasons with the Titans, and we all know how that turned out.
Based on this performance, Locker looks as if he’s going to get there, though. Yet in order for the Titans to get to the playoffs, they need Hasselbeck with a healthy arm, even if — at its best — that arm can’t compare with Locker’s.