Was last Sunday the next step for Jake Locker, or just a blip on the radar?
After Locker directed a game-winning 94-yard drive in 1:50 with no timeouts left to beat the San Diego Chargers, the Tennessee Titans certainly hope it is the former.
Those who have been around the Titans for awhile know what a franchise quarterback looks like, as they watched the development and maturation of Steve McNair from a raw first-round pick in 1995 into a league co-MVP in 2003.
When the Titans drafted Locker, they saw some of the same physical qualities in him that McNair possessed – a very athletic quarterback who could use his legs, who had the toughness to to play through injuries and often willed his team to victory in the waning moments of games.
Of course, the Titans thought at one time they had a successor to McNair in Vince Young, only to have the 2006 pick flame out after some exciting moments early in his career.
Sunday was only Locker's second-game winning drive in his short career after falling just short several times before. But his 34-yard TD pass to rookie Justin Hunter could be a nice building block to Locker's career, if he can continue to improve and instill confidence in his teammates.
“I think those kinds of drives definitely help, there’s no way around saying it doesn’t. Again, it’s one of those things where you say as a team, ‘We believe in ourselves, believe in our quarterback, we believe in the players.’ But, then you have to go do it,” Titans coach Munchak said. “You have to have games where you do run the ball when you’re supposed to run the ball like we talk about. You have to have games where you finish the game in two minutes so you can prove you can do it. You have to have a game where you go 94 yards and win a football game with no timeouts.
“You hope that’s not every week, but once you’ve done it, I think the guys realize we can do anything. Now, if we stay close we can win. I think that was exciting for them. It was good for the whole team. It was a great lift for everybody I think.”
Munchak recalled when he thought McNair finally took control of the Titans and really enhanced his stature in the eyes of his teammates and the organization. It was a 2000 game in Pittsburgh, when he was out with a sternum injury and backing up Neil O'Donnell. Late in the game, O'Donnell was injured and McNair came off the bench to direct a game-winning drive on the road.
“For me with Mac, I think one of the games the Pittsburgh game when he came back in after being hurt and didn’t play. He came in I think Neil O’Donnell got hurt, he took us down the field for a touchdown in two-minute. We won the game in Pittsburgh. I think that was a huge, huge game for him and his career,’’
Locker was able to finish Sunday what he nearly did the week before in Houston, when the Titans took the lead with a 99-yard drive, only to have the Texans rally to win in overtime.
“I think it's big for us. We were able to two weeks in a row have two big drives that we needed an this week finish with a touchdown at the end of the game to win it for us,” Locker said.
Receiver Nate Washington said Locker has always been confident, but seeing tangible evidence of a game-winning drive should be a boost for him.
“Jake's confidence has always been there. I think it's going to help every time, but it should really help him now,” Washington said.
Locker said he wants his teammates to have complete trust in him as a quarterback, no matter the situation.
“You're out there with those guys so you've got to have confidence in them and they've got to have confidence in you,” Locker said. “They've got to know that you believe in them. All the guys that I play with I'm gonna instill a confidence in them that I believe in them, and I'm gonna give them the rock when they're open.”