If this scenario sounds familiar, it's because the Titans went through the exact same thing with the late Steve McNair in 1999. In fact, if you look beyond the surface, Locker and (1999) Steve McNair's careers have been eerily similar up to this point.
Both Locker and McNair were top ten picks. Both had to sit behind veteran...albeit mediocre starting qb's their rookie year. Both were pegged out of college as good athletes playing the qb position, lacking the accuracy and smarts to read defenses on an NFL level. Both qb's were thrown into the fire as unfinished products. And both entered their third season under make or break circumstances.
The 1999 season, Tennessee's first as the Titans, began with owner Bud Adams issuing the now four famous words....
"Playoffs or pink slips"
Everyone got the message, including embattled head coach Jeff Fisher. Tennessee was coming off back to back mediocre seasons with McNair under center, and everyone's job was on the line. McNair had to get it done.
Tennessee's first home game as the Titans was a tenuous one. The underdog Bengals were in town, and held a 10 point lead late in the fourth quarter. McNair, who had been booed throughout the entire afternoon, lead two straight scoring drives to steal a victory from the jaws of defeat. It was the first time since McNair's arrival that he was considered the hero. Steve threw up his college fraternity sign...then pointed to the sky as he walked away in victory. That was a watershed game for McNair. His confidence grew and he went on to have a great career in Tennessee.
Coming into this season, owner Bud Adams wasn't as bold. But you could get the picture that head coach Mike Munchak and starting qb Jake Locker were playing for their Titans lives this year.
Munchak and Locker knew it too.
Like McNair, Locker is entering his third season under a tremendous amount of pressure. And like coach Fisher, Mike Munchak's job is directly tied to Locker's success this year. Locker's first home game of his make or break season was tenuous as well. The underdog Chargers were in town, and held a four point lead with less than two minutes left in the game. Locker capped a 94 yard drive with a game winning 34 yard td in the closing seconds.
The Bengals game in 1999 gave the Titans and their fans hope. We all know how that Super Bowl story ended. Of course I am not predicting a Super Bowl appearance for the Titans after three games. But as I watched Locker sprint toward the winning end zone with his finger pointed to the sky, I couldn't help but think of McNair...and that magical 99 season.
We will soon find out if last week's game was Locker's watershed moment. follow @plcolter