I want to say one thing before I go any further. Last week I wrote about whether Locker's performance against the Chargers could be considered elite or not. This game erases any of my lingering concerns. Locker was accurate, in command of the huddle, and directed multiple scoring drives, capitalizing on big defensive plays and stops. Prior to his exit, Locker had thrown for 6 touchdowns on the year and rushed for another, with zero interceptions and plenty of yardage. His performance puts him in the upper echelons of QB play this season, and I would argue that overall, only a handful of signal callers have been more impressive. Beyond that though, his growth gives me hope that we will be enjoying a competitive team here in Nashville for the foreseeable future with Jake at the helm. While his injury no doubt casts a pall over this game, let's take heart in the positives in what is a dark time in Titans Nation.
Yet again the wideouts put on a show. Nate Washington (4 catches for 105 yards and 2TDs) recorded his second straight 100 yard game and added two scores, including a nifty red zone reverse route and bowling-for-referees on a 77 yard strike late. Kendall Wright (5 catches for 56 yards) is Mr. Incredible: he has unbreakable bones. He played very well and was a consistent threat throughout the game, his most impressive catch coming on a high-ball on Fitzpatrick's first throw of the day. He is making leaps and bounds here in his second year. Damien Williams (5 catches for 52 yards) looked like a No.1 WR at times yesterday, making some ridiculous grabs and laying it all out there on the field. High character, high drive guys like that are part of the reason I love this team so much. He steps in and performs, and you can't ask any more than that. Finally at WR, we come to Justin Hunter, who for the second-straight week came down with a sensational catch in the endzone. His TD catch from Locker to end the first half was a thing of beauty, and Hunter is already establishing himself as a dangerous red-zone weapon. Stay tuned. Delanie Walker had an okay game as well, continuing his chemistry with Locker nicely and adding another TD to start the day off for the Titans offense. However, that chemistry was non-existent with Fitz-magic, so while Jake is recovering, you'd hope they can put the pieces together. (And help the offense continue to move the chains).
The offensive line had a rough go of it for most of the day. While I maintain that my estimate of the Jets defense pre-game was accurate, they certainly have an impressive front four, and that unit was able to get penetration and hurry the Titans QBs all game. Turner, Warmack, and Levitre need to put together some good performances now more than ever, and allow CJ some room to take the pressure of of Fitzpatrick and the passing game. I am overall pretty underwhelmed by this group so far this year, but I have hope they can get it together in the near future and be the dominant line we all expected. Both CJ and Battle struggled, but not for want of trying. Both were pressing the hole hard, but Battle's size simply allowed him to gain some extra yards. He did have a nice run to end the game though, and it was an improved effort from him over the weeks' prior. It also showed that this FO has some trust in Battle and he was the featured back on a number of series late in the game.
The Titans put on a masterclass on the front end. Casey (1 sack) and Pitoitua (2 sacks) shined early and often, and the pressure they and their teammates were bringing only increased as the game went on. The entire group played with fire and confidence, and I would love to see that passion continue. MCM favorite Karl Klug also added a sensational play later in the game with a holy trifecta: sack,strip, recovery for TD. Zach Brown had yet another great game, with 6 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble to go along with several other great pressures that forced incompletions. He has grown into a gamechanger here in his second year. Akeem Ayers looked good save for one bad missed tackle where he went for the ball instead of the stop, but his play has been gradually improving since his early injury on.
What can we say about this secondary? They have gone from the bottom of the league to damn near the very top. Alterraun Verner is the best corner in football so far this year, both on the field and on the stat sheet. He has elevated his game to a level I didn't even think he was capable and this defense is feeling the effects. He accounted for three turnovers yesterday with 2 great interceptions and the third coming courtesy of a Zach Brown forced fumble. This FO better extend him or heads will roll. On the other side Jason McCourty played well, but his game was far overshadowed by his teammate, and for good reason.
Bernard Pollard and Griffin played solidly on the back-end, save for one play in garbage time when both took poor angles to the ball/ballcarrier. It was bound to happen sooner or later, but color me impressed that it took until week 4. Who saw that coming? Pollard continued his enforcer-ways with some strong tackling to go along with some verbal on-field leadership that helped this defense neutralize everything about the Jets attack.
For the first time this year, Special Teams did not negatively impact the Titans. Reynaud used his brain (I know, right?) to down the ball when he should have, and took a good opportunity late in the game and made a great punt return to give the offense good field position. Hopefully this was a learning experience for him; that his chances will come if he is patient, and that he doesn't need to return every football that floats his way.
I have to say that the most notable part of this win, other than its totality, was the pace of the team out of the gate, something they have lacked all year. They will need to build on this game and prevent the slow starts in the tougher match-ups ahead, especially with Locker, the offenses' X-factor, recovering from his injury. This team should feel good about this win, and with Locker in the game, they might have just put up 45+ points. This young team has played some of the best defenses in the league out of the gate this year, and I for one count myself as extremely proud of their determination and grit. So while we all pray for Locker to recover and take back hold of his team, this group needs to continue to go deep down within themselves and pull out the heart and passion that has gotten them to 3-1 in the first place.