It could have been one of the worst moments of Jake Locker’s night. Instead, it turned into one of his best.
The Tennessee Titans rookie quarterback mishandled the snap but gathered up the ball then gathered his emotions. As soon as he realized all was not lost, he looked downfield and threw a 45-yard touchdown pass.
“I wish that’s how we drew it up, but yeah I wasn’t ready for that snap count,” Locker said. “Luckily we got a fortunate bounce and it went our way.”
No play better summarized the Titans’ 14-3 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. Not everything went right, but on balance there was more to the good than the bad.
Tennessee fumbled three times, all within its first four possessions. Minnesota did not recover any, but the first two – unlike the third – did not contribute to a score. In fact, they eliminated what looked to be a prime scoring opportunity.
On the other hand, when Locker put the ball on the ground the defensive back reacted and allowed wide receiver Yamon Figurs to get behind him.
“It helped a lot,” Figurs said. “He bit on it like it was a hitch-and-go route or something.”
The Titans averaged fewer than two fumbles per game in the 2010 preseason and less than one and a half during the regular season. In both cases, though, they were on the wrong end of the fumble differential – opponents recovered more of theirs than they did of the opponents’.
So while the frequency with which the ball was on the ground Saturday could be cause for concern, the fact that the offense maintained possession each time was seen as positive.
Not only that, but the defense recovered Minnesota’s only fumble, which meant Tennessee was a perfect four-for-four each time the ball was on the ground. Locker’s touchdown pass came on the first play after Jurrell Casey’s recovery at the Vikings’ 45.
Running back Javon Ringer recovered the Titans’ first after it had rolled 30 yards backward from the line of scrimmage, which was the Minnesota 16. Two plays later, on third-and-40, Ringer lost the handle at the end of a screen pass but right guard Jake Scott fell on it.
“It was all about the hustle with Jake Scott recovering the fumble down there which could have been a problem,” coach Mike Munchak said. “The other fumble … the ball hit the fullback and bounced back, so it was just a muff of a play that obviously cost us points. Again [you like] the hustle to get that ball, so the offense retained it.”
Those miscues – particularly the first one – did indeed cost the offense a scoring opportunity. Yet in maintaining possession, Tennessee held on to the opportunity to influence field position, and following Ringer’s fumble Brett Kern had a punt downed at the 7-yard line.
“We got first downs, and that’s the first goal,” Scott said. “The second goal is to score points, and we didn’t do that as a first-team offense. We need to be able to finish those drives and put some points on the board.”
The points finally came when the second unit was in the game.
Locker replaced starter Matt Hasselbeck after one possession and played one series with the starters before he was surrounded by reserves.
Figurs, a fifth-year pro who played with five different teams before Tennessee, was part of the second group of receivers. Backup Kevin Matthews, a second-year player, was at center.
The touchdown in which those players were central figures was the longest play of the night for either team.
“I think [Locker] is almost more comfortable in that environment,” Hasselbeck said. “He’s probably the best athlete on the field, when he’s on the field. So when stuff breaks down I think that’s almost like an advantage goes to him.”
Just as long as possession does not go to the other team, that is.
“I just wanted to get the ball back,” Locker said. “Once I picked it up, I felt that we had really good protection and I kind of got outside the pocket a little bit. I was looking to either run or throw it away and I saw [Figurs] waving his arms back there by himself.
“Like I said, it wasn’t pretty, but it worked out for us.”
That’s about all anybody can ask for a preseason game.