Matt Hasselbeck not only failed to throw a touchdown pass for the first time this season, the veteran quarterback failed to finish the game.
Rookie Jake Locker came on with 2:57 to play in the third quarter after Hasselbeck sustained an injury to his right (throwing) arm. Locker threw his first career touchdown pass on his third snap and nearly rallied the Tennessee Titans from a 20-point deficit.
The eighth overall pick in the 2011 draft ultimately threw two touchdown passes, but Tennessee lost 23-17 to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday and fell two full games behind the Houston Texans, who had a bye, in the AFC South.
The Titans (5-5) gave up a touchdown fewer than five minutes after the opening kickoff and never seriously challenged the Falcons (6-4) until the closing minutes. A season-high 10 penalties penalties, which cost 86 yards, and — once again — an unproductive running game made any consistent production on either offense or defense difficult to generate.
"We just missed too many opportunities," wide reciever Nate Washington said. "To tell the truth, too many penalties, too many missed opportunities and assignments, and if we want to be a great team we can’t play this type of football. We expect better from ourselves."
Tennessee had just 15 yards of total offense in the second half before Locker entered. His first drive consisted of three plays — an incomplete pass, an eight-yard completion to tight end Jared Cook and then a 40-yard touchdown pass to Washington.
He later connected with Cook for a 22-yard gain on fourth-and-17, which led to his second touchdown pass — a four-yard completion to Washington. That got the Titans within six, 23-17, with 3:06 remaining.
"He came in and made some nice throws under pressure and bought us some time," coach Mike Munchak said."He did exactly what we thought he was capable of doing. He did exactly what a second team quarterback should do. It was his opportunity. He brought us back in the game."
The Falcons, who got 316 yards passing and a touchdown from Matt Ryan and 100 yards rushing and another touchdown from Michael Turner, successfully ran off the remaining time.
Washington had just two touchdown receptions through the first nine games. He finished with a career-high nine catches and 115 yards (two short of his career-high).
Locker completed nine of 19 passes for 140 yards and the two touchdowns.
Hasselbeck was 13-for-25 for 124 yards with one interception. His streak of nine straight games from the start of the season with at least one touchdown pass was the longest of his career.
He was injured as he attempted to deliver a pass, stayed in the game for one more play and then watched the remainder of the contest with a bag of ice on his right forearm.
"I am not in a ton of pain, but I just hurt my elbow and wasn’t able to throw," Hasselbeck said. "It’s unfortunate and I feel bad about it. I think we are going to take some pictures tomorrow and see what we can find out. I was happy for the team. They battled back. [Locker] came in and played great. He made some plays."
Neither quarterback had the benefit of a productive running game. Chris Johnson rushed for 13 yards on 12 carries and the Titans rushed for 41 (their second-lowest total of the season) as a team.
“We are 5-5 and it just shows that we are really inconsistent right now," Johnson said. "If we want to make a run for the playoffs and be a good team in December, then we are going to have to start being consistent. We can’t have a good week this Sunday and then a bad week next.
"We have to play like we really want to be in the playoffs.”