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Notebook: Locker Improvises to Extend Drives

Posted Nov 11, 2012

The Titans cared much more about substance than style Sunday, but wound up getting a combination of both in a 37-3 trouncing of the Dolphins in fashionable Miami.

Jake Locker returned to the lineup with a healed left, non-throwing shoulder and showed fast and fresh legs and an ability to improvise when he held onto the ball and fired it to receivers.

SEE IT AGAIN WITH NFL GAME REWIND

Locker capitalized on great field position after the first of four Dolphins turnovers with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Kendall Wright for a 7-0 lead with 6:49 remaining. The next snap Locker took, however, was even more improbable. Locker got his feet caught with Chris Johnson on a play fake and fell to the ground. He sprung to his feet and shifted through defenders to turn what would have been a significant loss into 20-yard gain.

“It wasn’t pretty at times but we found ways to move the chains and that’s the name of the game,” said Locker, who avoided a blitzer and gained five yards on a fourth-and-2 play that set up Tennessee’s second touchdown.

“That’s why we’re excited about him,” Munchak said. “He made some plays a lot of quarterbacks couldn’t make, especially early when we went for it on fourth-and-2. We knew coming in that there would be some plays here and there, just to get him used to playing against live contact for the first time in six weeks. He played hard. I think the players rallied around him like we thought they would.”

Locker rushed four times for 36 yards and also extended passing plays in the second half that resulted in a 28-yard pass to Kenny Britt and a 26-yard touchdown pass to Jared Cook on third-down plays during the Titans’ first possession of the second half that consumed more than eight minutes of the third quarter, put Tennessee up 31-3 and left little hope for the Dolphins.

Locker was 4-for-5 for 69 yards on that drive and 9-for-21 for 122 yards with the two TD passes and no interceptions for a 93.8 passer rating for the game, which he left early in the fourth quarter with the game in hand.

“It wasn’t perfect, but we talked about it before the game, our goal wasn’t to come out and play perfect football, it was to play winning football,” Locker said. “I thought that our defense put us in great situations all game, and we were able to put some drives together offensively and put points on the board.”

Munchak said Locker didn’t change his playing style in response to the shoulder injury he first suffered in the season-opener and hurt again Sept. 30. Locker hadn’t played in game action since that game against the Texans, but showed little, if any, hesitancy in any situation Sunday.

“I think you saw a very courageous guy today,” Munchak said. “I think that’s what he’s all about. That’s what we saw when we drafted him. He’s a competitor. His health is the least of his concerns when he’s playing football. He wants to find a way to win. He wants to make plays. He’s smart. When he ran, he slid. He does a great job with that.”

JOHNSON HAS ANOTHER BIG DAY: Johnson rushed 23 times for 126 yards and a spectacular touchdown on a play that appeared to be destined to lose yards because it was well defended.

Johnson took the handoff and went to the right, halted when he saw no room, created space and reversed course across the field before cutting through a path cleared by Michael Roos and Kenny Britt for a 17-yard TD and a 14-0 lead with 3:39 left in the first quarter.

“I was trying to hit the hole and I saw color,” Johnson said. “I tried to bounce outside and I saw color again. Instead of me just dropping and taking a 1 yard loss, I was just trying to make a play and those guys up front kept grinding and gave me an opportunity to come back to the outside and score.”

Locker, who caught up with Johnson to celebrate after the play, said it was a “great run.”

“He didn’t have a whole lot on the front side and he was able to bounce it all the way backside and was able to find a crease and scored the touchdown for us in a big situation,” Locker said. “It was a great run and a great effort by him and it was a good job upfront of continuing to block and to get the receivers downfield making key blocks to spring him.”

Johnson became the first player to have more than 100 rushing yards against the Dolphins in their previous 22 games and recorded his third 100-plus yard tally in as many games against Miami. It was the 32nd 100-yard game of his career and fourth this season.

The Dolphins entered the game ranked third in the NFL with 83.9 rushing yards allowed per game, but allowed 177 rushing yards on 37 carries by the Titans.

“I think he’s showing, and the run game is showing, what we thought it would be,” Munchak said. “This year it’s much better. Much improved. It’s a credit to those guys sticking with it and not getting down on people who were trying to get them down. You know, trying to blame someone. We did a great job of staying together with the run game and realized we were much better than the numbers were showing. And now (Johnson’s) getting opportunities and the numbers are much better. I think he’ll finish with six-strong weeks.”

MCCOURTY FORCES, RECOVERS FUMBLE: One week after the Titans suffered from five turnovers against Chicago, they forced four and committed zero against Miami.

Jason McCourty started the storm when he stripped Dolphins running back Reggie Bush and snagged the ball as he fell to the ground. The forced fumble (third of his career) and fumble recovery (second of his career) erased a third-down conversion run by Bush and gave the Titans the ball at the Miami 28-yard line. Johnson followed with a 21-yard run to set up the Titans’ first TD.

“That’s demoralizing for an offense, third down they pick it up, we create a fumble, and now it’s our ball and now we’re going into score,” McCourty said. “Offense did a great job today on all our turnovers, capitalizing; they did a great job staying on the field.”

MCCARTHY NABS INT, SCORES TD: Colin McCarthy recorded his second career interception and his first touchdown when he picked off a pass by Ryan Tannehill that Akeem Ayers tipped at the line of scrimmage.

McCarthy quickly secured the ball and rumbled down the Miami sideline, punctuating the play with a dive across the goal line.

“It was great. I have a lot of family, friends, guys I went to school with here at the game and to get a touchdown and pick six, it was good,” McCarthy said. “It was a homecoming. I knew if I came down here, I had to make some plays in front of the old stadium I used to play in back in college.”

What made the play even more remarkable was that McCarthy had been forced to the sideline because of aggravating a season-long ankle injury three plays earlier. The injury occurred on the final play of the first quarter, and McCarthy delivered the interception on a third-and-1 play.

McCarthy has battled a high ankle sprain he suffered in the season-opener that caused him to miss four games and was limited in practice again last week but didn’t want to miss an important moment in his return to the stadium where he played home games while at the University of Miami.

AYERS, BROWN ADD INTS: Ayers and rookie Zach Brown, who started with McCarthy at the linebacker spots, also recorded interceptions against the Dolphins.

Ayers recorded his first career interception to give the Titans the ball at the Miami 23 with 1:51 left before halftime, and Tennessee followed by adding a field goal from Rob Bironas and a 24-3 lead at the break.

Brown also recorded his first career interception when he cleanly caught a Tannehill pass at the Tennessee 16 and returned it 47 yards to the Miami 37 to lead to another field goal.

“All three linebackers had interceptions, which was fun to see,” Munchak said. “And that’s what you need. We saw what turnovers do. Our defense got four. We didn’t give up any. In a lot of areas we played some good football.”

KERN BOOMS CAREER LONG: Brett Kern helped flip field position for the Titans after their first possession stalled with a career-long 71-yard punt.

The Dolphins failed to field the kick and it took a good bounce for Tennessee before trickling out of bounds at the Miami 15-yard line for a net of 71 yards. Kern’s previous career high was a 68-yarder against Philadelphia on Oct. 24, 2010.

Kern finished the day with four punts for 208 yards (52 yards per punt) and a career-best net average of 48 yards and pinned three of his four punts inside the Miami 20.

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