- Paul Kuharsky, ESPN Staff Writer
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It’s a little too easy and a little too poetic, but we must compare anyway.
In the course of minutes, Houston’s rookie quarterback threw a game-winning touchdown pass and Tennessee’s rookie quarterback absorbed a game-ending sack in a similar situation.
The Texans' guy, fifth-round pick T.J. Yates, was a third stringer until two games ago. The Titans' guy, eighth overall pick Jake Locker, has been a second stringer this season, but saw his second significant action of the season Sunday after Matt Hasselbeck suffered a calf injury that knocked him from the game in the second quarter.
Understandably, the Titans were worried about their own game and bad result, and didn’t have a chance to consider the comparison.
They did laud Locker, who led the Titans on two touchdown drives in the second half and positioned them to threaten the end zone for a winning score on the final two possessions of the game but fell short.
“We were in range, we had chances,” right guard Jake Scott said. “You can’t say we didn’t have chances to win the game. Jake played well. He played composed. He made good decisions, he moved us down the field [four] times. He did his job as well as you could expect.”
Accuracy was the biggest issue with Locker coming out of Washington, and he connected on only 13 of 29 passes against New Orleans. The 13 completions went for 282 yards.
In the third quarter, Locker ran for a 6-yard score, expertly going airborne and reaching the ball over the pylon with most of his body out of bounds. In the fourth, he found Nate Washington for a 40-yard score that cut the Saints' margin to 5.
Locker absorbed a violent shot to his side from blitzing cornerback Terry Porter. Hasselbeck limped into the game for a play before Locker returned.
He failed to convert a sneak on a fourth-and-1 to end one late series, then after finding Washington for another 40-yard gain, couldn’t get the Titans in the end zone on the game’s final two plays:
Tracy Porter broke up an attempt for Marc Mariani and Locker couldn’t find anyone open on the final play. The ball was snapped with 5 seconds left, and finding no one open, Locker rolled to the right sideline and took a sack from Jo-Lonn Dunbar to end the game.
Offensive coordinator Chris Palmer was effusive with his praise for Locker, but said the best move on that play would have been to bail on it quickly.
“We go over situations and one of the situations we had gone over a couple weeks ago was we were on the 12-yard line and there is X amount of time left in the game, and in that situation you’ve got to drop back and get rid of it so you get another play,” Palmer said.
“It’s easier said than done, because your instincts take over. That’s what you’re trying to do as a coach, put him in that situation so he has an opportunity to handle it. But until you go through it, you don’t quite understand it.”
Said Locker: “I just didn’t see anybody that I had a good chance of getting it to and I thought I could make that guy miss. I just need to throw it away or give somebody a chance.”
Of course, Locker and the Titans would have had at least one more play but for Palmer’s call four players earlier, when, with 48 second left and no timeouts, Chris Johnson took a handoff for no gain. They were down to 27 seconds when they ran their next play.
“We could have popped something there,” Palmer said. “Chris Johnson is one of our playmakers and we’re going to try different ways to get him the ball. Every time he touches the ball I think he has a chance to make something happen.”
Hasselbeck said he heard something pop and will have tests tomorrow. If he’s finished, the Titans will ride with Locker the rest of the way. A 3-0 finish might still get them in to the playoffs.
But for today, much of their quarterback talk was of Locker’s future. On a flight from Cincinnati to Houston, another team was reveling in Yates’ present.