Tennessee Titans search for offense until Locker returns

When Neil O'Donnell stepped in for an injured Steve McNair during the 1999 season, a quarterback controversy ensued.

O'Donnell played well and the Titans went 4-1. When McNair was healthy again, a portion of the fan base thought he should stay on the bench, but he returned to the lineup and led a run to the Super Bowl.

Fast forward to 2013 and there is no such controversy. The Titans (3-3) have lost two straight behind veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick while Jake Locker continues to recover from hip and knee injuries he suffered on Sept. 29.

When Locker returns, "I think you'll see things elevate," coach Mike Munchak said on Monday. "But there is no excuse there. We can win with Ryan, but we're not playing well enough. But I think you'd always like to think if your starting quarterback is available, these results would have been different the last two weeks."

Fitzpatrick is expected to make his third start on Sunday against the 49ers, although Locker is making progress in rehab. He has been cleared for football activities -- he could run and throw some passes on the practice field this week -- but the best-case scenario remains a return for the Nov. 3 game against the Rams after the bye week.

When Locker is ready he will immediately return to the starting lineup, Munchak said, but the Titans will be cautious with him until then.

"We wouldn't rush Jake by any means ... we wouldn't do anything foolish," he said. "We wouldn't put him out there unless we felt he was ready to play and obviously we assume it would be later rather than sooner."

In the meantime, the Titans need Fitzpatrick to play better.

Locker was 3-1 with a 99.0 passer rating, six touchdowns and no interceptions. Fitzpatrick is 0-2 with ratings of 57.7 (Chiefs) and 46.8 (Seahawks) while throwing one touchdown and four picks. The offense managed just six points in a 20-13 loss at Seattle.

Munchak acknowledged that the Titans expected Fitzpatrick to play better, but he also said it's unfair to put all the blame on the ninth-year pro's shoulders. Teammates agreed.

"It's not all Ryan's fault," wide receiver Nate Washington said. "We have some things we need to clean up as a whole. We are going to win these games together, and we're going to lose these games together. No one is here to put the blame on anybody."

The offense started with five straight three-and-outs against the Chiefs. The struggles seemed to get worse against the Seahawks. A ground game might have taken some pressure off Fitzpatrick, but Chris Johnson has only 71 rushing yards in the past three games combined.

"That's the burden of the quarterback position," offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. "Every decision he makes or doesn't make is second-guessed. But it is on all of us. It is not just Ryan. It is myself, it is the rest of the coaches, and it is the other 10 guys on the field with him."

Another factor in the offensive struggles: the Titans have faced five of the NFL's top six defenses, including the Chiefs (fifth) and Seahawks (second). The 49ers (4-2) are ninth.

"I'm not doing enough out there to consistently move the ball for the offense," Fitzpatrick said after the loss at Seattle. "We get to go home, and that will kind of get the mojo back going. The last two weeks unfortunately, especially offensively, we just haven't played well and I haven't played well enough for us to win."


49ERS (4-2) at TITANS (3-3)


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