The Jake Locker era began with the quarterback firing a pair of first-half touchdowns in the Tennessee Titans' 32-27 victory over the Arizona Cardinals Thursday night.
Locker was solid in nearly three full quarters of work, his first since being named the starting quarterback on Monday by Coach Mike Munchak. He hit on 11 of 20 passes for 134 yards with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Kendall Wright following a Michael Griffin interception.
Later, Locker found Nate Washington on a crossing route and the receiver did the rest, racing into the end zone for a 28-yard touchdown.
It was a major improvement over Locker's first preseason start last week, when he was just 4 of 11 for 21 yards and an interception against Tampa Bay.
“I thought it was kind of hot and cold from drive to drive,” Locker said of the offense. “We had drives where we really put it together and were able to move the ball.”
Locker wasted little time in taking advantage of a Michael Griffin interception in the first quarter that was returned to the Cardinals 19-yard line. Two plays later, Locker found Wright for the touchdown and a quick 7-0 Tennessee lead.
“I think when your defense give you a pretty short field, like they gave us a couple of times today, to come away with points is a huge momentum shift for you,” Locker said.
Locker's best drive of the night came after the Cardinals cut the lead to 7-3. He showed poise as he marched the Titans 80 yards in eight plays with Washington's 28-yard catch and run capping the drive.
“The one thing I knew going into this game was that nothing was going to rattle him. He's the same guy today and every play,” quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains said of Locker. “He did a nice job of managing the huddle and managing the sideline, knew what was going during in the game. He knew exactly what the defense was doing and was able to communicate that to me and the receivers and tight ends.”
While Locker performed well, the real stars of the night for Tennessee were linebacker Colin McCarthy and defensive end Kamerion Wimbley.
McCarthy had two interceptions of Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb, including one he returned 31 yards for a touchdowns early in the third quarter to give Tennessee a 23-10 lead.
“We were just playing good defense,” McCarthy said. “I think our d-line was getting a lot of pressure up front.”
Much of that pressure came from Wimbley who had two sacks for 14 yards in losses.
“We emphasized going out there and setting the tone, and that's what we wanted to do,” he said.
Once the backups were in, the Cardinals rallied and took a 27-23 lead with 12:30 to play. But Tennessee responded with 10 more points, including Jamie Harper's 15-yard run that sealed the outcome at the 5:27 mark. Harper capped the touchdown with a front flip and even stuck the landing. He said it was for members of his high school football team, whom he brought up for the game before they head to Lousville, Ky., for a game of their own on Saturday.
“I brought 70 people from my high school football team. They play in Louisville on Saturday, and I did my first front flip in high school, and I thought I would just keep tradition and do it in front of them again and give them something to make the drive worthwhile,” Harper said.
The only down side for the Titans was the loss of return man Marc Mariani to a compound fracture to his left leg in the first half.
Mariani was sent immediately for surgery to both his tibia and fibula and will be lost for the entire season.
“He had a tib-fib fracture and he is having surgery right now,” Titans coach Mike Munchak said. 'I'm very disappointed. I feel terrible for him. Just going out and obviously seeing the pain that he was in, you know those things like that can happen. … That's a big loss for us.”