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Jake Locker Leads 94-Yard Winning Drive, Targets Justin Hunter for TD

Posted Sep 22, 2013

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Jake Locker’s arm and legs helped Tennessee open its offense for several big plays Sunday in the Titans’ home opener at LP Field.

Titans rookie Justin Hunter records his first catch in the NFL (a 34-yard TD with 15 seconds left) against Chargers CB Crezdon Butler.
Click here for a slideshow from the game.

None will be more memorable or receive more replays than the 34-yard touchdown pass to rookie receiver Justin Hunter with 15 seconds remaining to lift the Titans over the Chargers 20-17.

San Diego tried a desperation play that included a short pass from Philip Rivers to Danny Woodhead, followed by seven laterals and an illegal kicking of the ball by Rivers before Alterraun Verner ended the frenzy by falling on the ball for a fumble recovery.

The deep pass capped a 10-play, 94-yard drive that lasted 1:50 and caused an eruption from the Titans’ sideline and stands in celebration of Hunter’s first reception in the NFL. It marked the first time that Tennessee led San Diego the entire game.

“Everybody was going vertical and he was the first read to me when I saw him out there and they single-covered him,” Locker said. “We drafted him because he’s a long, fast receiver that can jump and plays ‘above the rim.’ I think he’s a mismatch against any corner in the league when you throw that jump ball and it’s one-on-one.”

The Titans aggressively traded in April to move up six spots in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft to select Hunter with the 34th overall pick.

“That’s why he’s here. We were very fortunate that (general manager) Ruston (Webster) drafted him and we expect him to make that play,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. “He’s got great speed and great size. I wish he had two touchdowns today, and he’s got a great opportunity to continue to get better.”

Hunter said the phrase “attack the ball” was his first thought as he tracked the ball because receivers coach Shawn Jefferson has instilled it to him since Hunter joined the Titans.

“It was a must-win game for us and we had to go out there and prove ourselves,” Hunter said. “I think it’s a big confidence builder for the offense, defense and whole organization.”

While the rookie’s leaping ability has never been in doubt, Loggains said Hunter’s progression has made the “biggest jump in the last three weeks.”

“He’s starting to come into his own, and he’s starting to believe,” Loggains said. “Young guys have to have success. Once they have success, the quarterback’s confidence goes up in him. It didn’t matter who was on the field, Jake was throwing him the ball at that point because he trusted him that much.”

Locker had tried to connect with Hunter on a deep post route to the end zone with more than eight minutes left in the second quarter but it was broken up by safety Eric Weddle, who grabbed Hunter’s right arm as he went up for the ball. The QB said he thought the receiver did a great job of learning from that experience to make the play at the end of the game.

Locker assorted his distribution of seven passes on the winning drive and finished 23-of-37 passing for 299 yards with the TD. He added 68 rushing yards on five carries with a rushing score for the second-highest total yardage of his career.

The third-year pro and second-year starter opened with a 9-yard pass to Kendall Wright, and followed with gains of 11 to Delanie Walker, 9 to Damian Williams, 16 to Wright and 4 to Michael Preston to move the ball to the San Diego 45.

When Locker tried to go back to Walker, the ball bounced off the tight end and into the hands of Chargers safety Marcus Gilchrist, but Walker had the wherewithal to run into Gilchrist and knock the ball away to prevent the interception. Locker called it a “huge” play.

“If he quits on that play, feels sorry for himself because he dropped it, the game is over,” Locker said. “So, him finding a way to get the ball out was important.”

Locker went to Nate Washington for a gain of 11 and a fresh set of downs, then spiked the ball to stop the clock, setting up the pass to Hunter two plays later on third-and-10. Washington recorded a career-high 131 receiving yards on eight catches and sixth career game with at least 100 receiving yards.

Titans QB Jake Locker used his arm and legs to make plays against the Chargers in a 20-17 come-from-behind victory. Slideshow.

“I think there was a calm feeling; I don’t think there was panic,” Locker said of the team’s mindset going into the final drive. “We had the penalty that put us back on the 6-yard line. I think there was just the feeling that we had enough time to go down and make something happen, and that’s what we believed in.”

Teammates and coaches said they weren’t surprised by the way Locker led the huddle. After all, he orchestrated a 99-yard TD drive last week in Houston to give Tennessee a lead in the fourth quarter that didn’t hold up.

The Titans used the no-huddle to break out of a slump at Houston, and used it against San Diego because they had no choice. Locker and the Titans had moved the ball effectively throughout the game (Tennessee had 452 net yards of offense, compared to 277 for San Diego), registering four plays of at least 20 yards. The Titans had two such plays combined from their first two games.

That effectiveness wasn’t showing up on the scoreboard, but Locker remained composed.

“When you talk about composure, it’s not always about slinging the ball down the field,” center Rob Turner said, citing the way Locker made plays with his legs that included a 39-yard scramble. “Sometimes, if they cover guys up, that’s what you need to do. You’ll get a coordinator to change up defensive calls if a quarterback is burning you. That’s composure. He didn’t throw an interception, he didn’t make a bad read. That’s composure. It wasn’t just the last drive. It was the entire game. He was under control, he made good decisions, and as a team, you love to follow a guy like that.”

Loggains called it a "signature two-minute drive" for Locker.

“I know he wanted to win this home game extremely bad for the fans of Tennessee and they did a great job. They were phenomenal today," Loggains said. "After last week, I think it talks about Jake’s heart because we had the opportunity to make the play last week and didn’t get it done, and to come back and answer the way he did, it’s a big credit to Jake.”

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