With the preseason opener set for Saturday at Seattle, there will be much attention paid in the coming days as to whether Matt Hasselbeck or Jake Locker starts at quarterback for the Tennessee Titans.
Typically, the issue of who goes first is paramount. That might not be the case this time.
Presumably, the starter will not play beyond the first quarter in the first (and maybe the second) preseason contest. His replacement likely will take the offense all the way to halftime and, therefore, potentially have the chance to operate the two-minute offense.
That is critical because the issue of who will be the starter for the regular season might come down to who executes best in situations when time is short.
“You realize how many games are decided in that lost couple minutes of the half,” coach Mike Munchak said. “Last year, we were very good at halftime putting points on the board when we got chances. Then the times at the end of the game, we didn’t a couple times where we could have made plays.”
Of the Titans’ 16 games in 2011, nine were decided by a touchdown or less. Tennessee was 5-4 in those contests, but in three of the defeats the offense had the ball in the closing minutes but failed to score the necessary points.
Munchak and offensive coordinator Chris Palmer repeatedly have said the choice between Hasselbeck and Locker will come down to who gives the team the best chance to win. It’s possible, therefore, that means it will hinge on who proves he can handle late-game situations the best.
“You look at two-minute with all the things we did last year,” Hasselbeck said. “There’s different areas where you critique your own game and try to do better, but I don’t try to match up with anybody.”
Hasselbeck had his moments in his first season with Tennessee.
Three times he directed come-from-behind and/or game-winning drives in the fourth quarter, the final time in the season-ending victory at Houston when his 23-yard touchdown pass to Nate Washington with 4:31 to play was the difference. He also threw a game-winning touchdown pass to tight end Daniel Graham with 4:24 to play in a Week 3 triumph over Denver, and led the offense to 10 points in the final 3:01 of a Week 12 victory over Tampa Bay.
All told, the veteran has produced 23 such possessions in his career.
Locker had one opportunity in his rookie season. Trailing New Orleans by five with 1:34 remaining, he got the Titans from their own 20 to the Saints’ 5 in just five plays. He went no further, though. On fourth-down, he was sacked and failed to even make a throw for what could have been a game-winning touchdown as time expired.
Things were a little better in the final minutes of the first half.
The Titans’ highest-scoring quarter in 2011 was the second. Their 110 points in that period were nearly twice as many as in the first (57) and more than in either the third or fourth as well. Seven times (four touchdowns, three field goals) they put points on the board with less than a minute to go before halftime.
Predictably, work in the two-minute offense has been a regular part of training camp workouts in recent days.
Sunday, for example, Locker was put in a situation in which he and the first-team offense had the ball the opponents’ 44 with 1:05 to play and one timeout. He completed three passes, earned one first down and failed to get the offense into the end zone.
Hasselbeck followed with the second unit, ball at their own 35 with 1:57 remaining. He completed six straight passes to five different receivers and move the chains three times before he was intercepted on a throw to Marc Mariani that was intercepted.
“It’s something you keep working on because you know the importance of it,” Munchak said. “It’s a great competitive period. You have to get used to all the things that come up in the situations that happen, and it’s a good way to start practice with the tempo. It gets guys competing and working hard.”