Titans quarterback Jake Locker (10) calls at play in the huddle in the first quarter of their game against the Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium Friday, Aug. 17, 2012 in Tampa, Fl. (GEORGE WALKER IV / THE TENNESSEAN)
Commentary by David Climer, The Tennessean
Mike Munchak has said all along that preseason games are only part of his formula for deciding on a starting quarterback.
Jake Locker better hope so. Otherwise, a two-man race just got cut in half.
The events of Friday night at Tampa Bay are going to leave a mark. When Munchak and offensive coordinator Chris Palmer sit down to make the final call on the Titans' starting quarterback, memories from this game are going to rush back.
It wasn't that Locker just had a bad game. You can overcome that. But in his biggest career test thus far, he simply looked like he didn't belong. He was badly off target in the passing game. He threw into traffic. He appeared completely rattled.
With that in mind, it would take a profound leap of faith for Munchak and Palmer to hand over the keys to him.
I don't think either Munchak or Palmer has that kind of vertical.
I've been saying for the last few weeks that if it's close, the Titans should go with Locker. I still believe that. He's the future. But based on what happened on Friday night, I can't see it getting close again between now and the opener against New England.
With the starting job there for the taking, Locker finished the night with a passer rating of 7.0. Look, 7.0 is a decent score on a scale of 1 to 10. But when the scale is 0 to 158.3, a 7.0 rating is scraping the bottom of the barrel.
Yes, Locker contributed a 21-yard run to set up a touchdown. But that did little to offset his bad throws and poor decision-making.
Munchak wanted to see how Locker would handle things as a starter. That's why he informed Locker on Monday that he would be starting. Whether it was nerves or something else, he simply failed to answer the bell.
Munchak stood firm on Saturday, saying no decision has been made on the No. 1 quarterback spot and that the competition will continue. He even went so far as to deny that Locker's performance "hurt his chances at all."
But at the same press briefing, Munchak acknowledged that each quarterback's showing in preseason games has considerable bearing on the final call.
"This is definitely a factor in all of it," he said. "My point is it's not the factor but it's definitely part. ... It's something that's going to make you have to rethink your position on certain guys if they don't respond the way you hoped.
"We still have two preseason games to go and we still have a lot of answers in a lot of positions that we have to be able to make in a short period of time."
The beneficiary in all of this, of course, is Matt Hasselbeck. After dealing with his own struggles in the preseason opener, Hasselbeck regained form in limited action against Tampa Bay. He reclaimed the lead in the quarterback competition by default while standing on the sideline for most of the first half.
That sets up an interesting scenario on Thursday night when Arizona comes to town for the Titans' third preseason game. Munchak has not announced a starter for that game.
Right now, though, it appears Hasselbeck can lock up the No. 1 spot with even a decent performance. That's how much water Locker took on at Tampa Bay.
Locker's struggles put a damper on what otherwise was a very encouraging performance by the Titans. After a disappointing preseason opener, Chris Johnson looked like his old self. He ran with authority and vision. The blocking in the run game was very good except for a couple of short-yardage situations.
Defensively, the Titans got great inside pushes from Jurrell Casey and Sen'Derrick Marks as well as outside pressure from Derrick Morgan and Kamerion Wimbley. Linebacker play was strong and the secondary was on point.
All in all, it was an impressive game across the board - except for the starting quarterback.
This doesn't mean Locker is a lost cause. Far from it. He didn't throw his shoulder pads into the bleachers or curse his head coach in the locker room after the game. He has plenty of time to work through his issues and become an NFL starting quarterback.
But I just can't see it happening between now and Week 1.