So far in our Throwback Thursday's, we have been taking looks at games from the Vince Young era. He brought a lot of exciting times to the fanbase, and looking back on those memorable games has been great. That being said, none of the Locker era has been covered. While he didn't play as many games as Young, he definitely provided us with some memorable moments:
Context: The Titans were exceeding expectations this season. They were coming off of a 6-10 season, had a new head coach for the first time in franchise history, were fresh out of a lockout, and their best player, Chris Johnson, was absent for all of training camp. However, the team was making some noise in the early part of the season. Already, they had beaten one of the best teams in the league in the Ravens, beaten the Colts for the fist time in years, and blew out the Cam Newton-led Panthers. In November, the team had a winning record, and a potential playoff berth was in sight. However, this was all orchestrated by veteran quarterback, Matt Haselbeck. While he provided consistency at the position, you were always left wanting more, especially after Kenny Britt's injury in week 3. His play started to decline as November came around. The week after their blowout of the Panthers, they would face the Atlanta Falcons. As the game started off, the offense continued to struggle. Hasselbeck's passes were seriously lacking velocity, and the Titans were getting blown out in the Georgia Dome. However, down 20-3 early in the 3rd quarterback, Hasselbeck injured his throwing arm, after losing the ball on a pump fake. Jake Locker would take over, and this would be the first time fans had seen him get significant, regular season play time. Facing a 23-3 deficit, Locker threw a fantastic touchdown on the run to Nate Washington. Later on, on a 4th and 16, he hit Jared Cook after evading pressure, to keep the drive alive. He also hit Lavelle Hawkins on a hail mary-like heave into Falcons' territory. Eventually, Locker got the offense into the endzone again, making the score 23-17, giving the team a chance to win. However, the defense could not make a stop and get Locker the ball back, ending the game. While the Titans did not come out with the win, fans saw the spark that Locker provided to the offense and the whole team, and it was an exciting time.
The Main Event: Two weeks later, the Titans found themselves in a similar situation. They were facing an NFC South team once again, and the offense was struggling once again. On defense, they were missing some key players in the secondary, which didn't bode well considering the fact that they were facing one of the most potent offenses in the league. Down 3-0 early in the second quarter, Hasselbeck suffered a non contact calf injury. Once again, Jake Locker would be at the helm. The defense was exceeding expectations and leaving the Titans in the game. They were down 6-3, but the Saints were in Titans' territory. However, on a completion to Jimmy Graham in the endzone, the smallest tip of his heel touched the boundary, which gave the Titans a huge break. The Saints would only be leading 9-3 instead of 13-3. After this, Jake Locker started to get into a rhythm. He hit Damian Williams on a short pass, and he took off. Nearing the endzone, he was violently taken down by his facemask, by Roman Harper. This put the Titans in the redzone, and all of a sudden, they had a chance to take the lead. The next play, Locker scrambled towards the endzone, and dove in, barely reaching the ball across the plane in midair. It was reminiscent to some gutsy Steve McNair plays back in his day. The optimism among the fanbase was oozing at this point. However, in the 4th quarter, Drew Brees and the Saints' offense finally struck, scoring a touchdown on a deep ball, and taking a 16-10 lead. Shortly after, they did the same, increasing their lead to 22-10 after a failed 2 point conversion with about 7 minutes left in the game. Things were starting to look like they were all but over. However, just about a minute later, Locker hit Nate Washington on a deep ball of his own, threading the needle between two Saints defenders for a touchdown. He delivered the much needed quick strike to keep the Titans in the game. Once again, things would be on the defense to get Locker the ball back. They held, and the Titans quickly found themselves in Saints' territory again. On a 4th and 1, Locker snuck the ball right up the middle, and the refs gave him an absolutely terrible spot. To this day, I am convinced that he got that first down. However, spots on quarterback sneaks are essentially final, because once the call is made on the field, it is nearly impossible to find indisputable evidence that would lead to the call being overturned. So, once again, the defense would have to make a stop. On a third down, Drew Brees threw a duck right to Jurrell Casey, who dropped an interception that would have instantly put the Titans back in scoring range. That being said, they would still get the ball back. With seconds left, Locker hit Nate Washington on another huge pass, putting them in the red zone, and giving them 3 shots at the endzone for the win. Unfortunately, none were successful, and the Titans lost the game, 22-17.
Significance: This game gave Titans fans a great deal of hope. While they did not win the game, we all once again saw the spark that he provided. He also played an extremely gutsy game, and made some huge plays. In some ways, I think Titans fans were having flashbacks to some of the early 2000's Titans teams, led by Steve McNair. The game included gutsy plays, emotion, a comeback, and overcoming adversity. The end of the game was almost reminiscent to the end of the 1999 Super Bowl. Fans were convinced that the Titans had their next franchise quarterback. Unfortunately, the next week, the Titans went back to an extremely hobbled and already declining Matt Hasselbeck against the 0-14 Colts. After the first drive, it was clear that Hasselbeck was still injured and would be ineffective. Unfortunately, they stuck with him just about all game, and it led to a soul crushing loss, which ultimately was the reason that the team did not make the playoffs. While the Titans exceeded expectations this season, the Colts game left fans with a bad taste in their mouths. Combined with two following disappointing seasons, Mike Munchak was out of a job, and Jake Locker would have to win over an entirely different coaching staff in 2014. Unfortunately, injuries and poor play led to his benching. After that season, he shockingly retired. He said that his faith led him to believe that football was not his calling, and personally, I respect that. While his career in Nashville did not work out, I do not think many Titans fans have much ill-will towards him. Games like that Sunday in November, 2011 are the reason why. He always played with heart, and while he wasn't the best quarterback for the Titans, he was a great man and great teammate.
Media: Titans vs. Falcons highlights, Titans vs. Saints highlights
Pulls From The Archives:
All in all. Gut wrenching loss, but Locker is showing us things that should make fans extremely optimistic about the future. He is a total stud, and it’s abundantly clear that he’s working hard behind the scenes.
I know everyone's made right now, but I am pretty thrilled with today's result.
Sucks to lose, especially in the manner we did, but that sound you hear is the championship window opening up if we can keep Locker on the right track.
Had such high hopes for him.
Not only for the team, but as an individual too. He seemed the kind of guy that had the right stuff inside. The kind of person that you would hope to play beside and to lead your team.
In the end he still wasn’t moved or motivated just by the money. I hope he planned well as he said he and his wife had. And I hope he finds better success in his next venture.
True character guy.