Commentary: Titans need Locker now more than ever

Commentary by David Climer, The Tennessean

The biggest question coming out of the Titans' 26-17 loss to the Chiefs on Sunday did not center on the botched punt return, the absent running game or the rash of turnovers.

No, the biggest question was simple and to the point:

How soon will Jake Locker be back?

We've seen what the Titans can do when Locker is at quarterback. On Sunday, we saw what they do when he is watching from the sideline. It's quite a contrast.

Granted, there is plenty of blame to go around. Look, when you've got it first-and-goal at the 1 and can't score, you've got issues. Likewise, when you gift-wrap a touchdown because you can't field a punt, something is amiss.

But the bottom line is this is a quarterback league. Whether you're the starter or the backup, you have to produce. And on Sunday, Ryan Fitzpatrick didn't.

Yes, he had his moments. Down 13-0 at halftime, Fitzpatrick directed three straight scoring drives to push the Titans up 17-13. But then things shut down. He threw two fourth-quarter interceptions and struggled to complete anything other than short passes.

Moving forward, the biggest concern for the Titans is that Fitzpatrick is more like the quarterback we saw in the first, second and fourth quarters than the one we saw in the third quarter.

"This is a tough one, especially with me stepping in, my first game and trying to keep the momentum going with the win streak we had and the way we were playing," Fitzpatrick said. "We squandered a lot of opportunities."

You could tell something was wrong from the very start. Fitzpatrick was noticeably rusty. His first six passes fell incomplete. His timing with receivers was off by roughly a time zone.

"The second play of the game, he missed a throw he makes all the time," offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. "For whatever reason, it kind of got into his head a little bit. He was in a funk to start off, and he played himself out of that funk at the start of the second half."

Tight end Delanie Walker, who finished with four catches for 43 yards, said it takes "a couple of weeks" for a new quarterback to get on the same page with his receivers. Fitzpatrick didn't specify a timetable, but he acknowledged there is an adjustment period.

"I just didn't play well early," he said. "I was trying to feel the game out rather than go out there and taking it. … There's only so much you can do in practice. In a game-like setting, with live bullets firing and all that, that's when you really work on timing and understanding and having a good feel for that. It takes a bit of time."

Unfortunately, the schedule isn't doing the Titans any favors here. Next up is a trip to Seattle, followed by a home game against San Francisco. Then comes the bye week.

Against Kansas City, Fitzpatrick didn't get a lot of help. It was telling that he was the team's leading rusher with 50 yards on six carries. Chris Johnson managed just 17 yards on 10 carries.

And in a game where the Titans needed offensive playmakers to step up, Kenny Britt was AWOL. He had one catch for 9 yards. He watched much of the fourth quarter from the sideline, which may be a sign of things to come based on Loggains' comments:

"We're going to have to reassess everything at this point. … Obviously, I'm not going to hide anything. You saw probably three drops in the game. The one that bothered me the most was when we were up 17-13 and it's third-and-2. You've got to make that play."

Asked about Britt's potential, Loggains said: "Potential just means you haven't done anything."

As for Fitzpatrick, there were some upticks. He used his legs to make some plays. His 26-yard scramble on the second play of the second half energized the Titans. Later, his 9-yard scramble produced the go-ahead touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter.

Fitzgerald also initiated a 49-yard touchdown play by eluding the pass rush and flipping the ball to Johnson, who scored untouched.

Johnson initially stayed in to pick up a blitz. He made a cut block on linebacker Derrick Johnson and then took a couple of steps upfield before Fitzpatrick found him.

"That's just on the fly," Fitzpatrick said. "I'm kind of running around and I just saw C.J. getting up off the ground, and I threw it to him. He's special when he gets in space, and he made a nice little run."

But when he had to strong-arm the ball downfield, something was missing. Fitzpatrick's second interception was particularly troubling — a wobbler that was a bit behind Kendall Wright. The ball bounced off Wright's hands and into the grasp of Chiefs safety Quintin Demps.

"I've got to step up and make that throw," Fitzpatrick said.

That's one of the encouraging things about Fitzpatrick. He's a pro. He owns up to his mistakes. He takes full responsibility.

"It's tough but this is the NFL," he said. "You've got to take your 24 hours and feel bad for yourself and get over it because the next opponent's not going to feel bad for you."

Meanwhile, we wonder:

Just how long is Jake Locker going to be out?


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