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Notebook: Turnovers Outweigh Big Plays

Posted Dec 2, 2012

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Titans had six plays of at least 25 yards on Sunday, but committed six turnovers that loomed larger in a 24-10 loss to the Texans at LP Field.

Tennessee (4-8) competed as hard as it could but not as well as it can against AFC South leader Houston, which is tied with Atlanta for the best record (11-1) in the NFL.

Miscues put the Titans in a hole early, and several times when they appeared ready to climb out of it, another mistake grabbed them. The Titans committed turnovers on consecutive plays in the second quarter and trailed 21-3 at halftime.

“It’s not ideally how you want to start,” quarterback Jake Locker said. “Again, like I said, I think that the one real big positive to take away from it is just the kind of resolve of this football team and their willingness not just to lay down and quit, to keep fighting and try to find a way to win at the end.”

Tennessee trailed 14-3 and tried to speed its tempo early in the second quarter. Locker hit Damian Williams for a gain of 18 and Nate Washington for 19 to move the ball to the Houston 33-yard line, but Chris Johnson fumbled when he was tackled by J.J. Watt.

Tennessee’s defense forced a punt, but the offense suffered an interception deep in Titans territory when Shaun Cody hit a pass at the line of scrimmage. Tim Dobbins snagged the deflection at the Tennessee 10 and returned it seven yards before Locker tackled him. Houston scored its third touchdown two plays later with a short run by Arian Foster.

Locker was intercepted again after a ball was tipped to end the first half. The Titans also committed three turnovers in the second half (two fumbles by Locker and a late interception), but Tennessee’s defense held Houston to a field goal.

Locker kept getting up, despite taking six sacks and eight quarterback hits. He finished 21-for-45 for 309 yards and rushed four times for 38 yards. Locker also had a 28-yard run erased by a holding penalty in the fourth quarter.

Titans coach Mike Munchak said he saw progress from the young quarterback between the first and second half. Locker ended the first half 8-for-22 for 96 yards, but returned and went 13-for-23 for 213 yards that included a 34-yard touchdown to Kenny Britt in the third quarter and a 49-yard completion to Washington. Locker was hit on the throw to Washington and bit his tongue during the play but stayed in the game.

“Like I said he started out not playing the way he wished he would and he finished playing like we thought he would,” Munchak said. “That’s the good thing about him, he’s played in how many games now, six? People forget he’s played in six games, seven games, whatever it is, so he’s going to continue to get better and better and he’s going to have games like this where it didn’t start out the way he wanted.

“There are other things around him that didn’t help that because of the injuries, but obviously he didn’t play like he wanted in the first half,” Munchak continued, “but in the second half I thought it was much more what you’re going to see from him, making plays, giving the guys a chance to make plays, and that’s what we wished we had in the first half.”

It was important for Locker to finish the game against the Texans, who knocked him out early in the teams’ first meeting this season.

It was Locker’s third start since returning from the injury to his left, non-throwing shoulder that he initially hurt in the season opener. It was his first since quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains was promoted to offensive coordinator on Monday. The Titans didn’t install a new playbook this past week but did make some alterations.

“Yeah, I was very comfortable with the stuff that I’ve done before,” Locker said. “I think that maybe I pressed a little bit early on, just wanting, really trying to do really well (instead of) allowing the game to come to you a little bit.”

INJURIES HURT OFFENSIVE LINE: The Titans lost starting right tackle David Stewart on their third offensive play when the eight-year pro suffered a broken leg. Stewart helped clear space for Johnson to gain 26 yards to the Houston 24-yard line but was hurt when Texans linebacker Barrett Ruud landed on him from behind.

It was the second play in a row that gained at least 25 yards (Locker connected with Jared Cook on the previous play), but the drive stalled and Tennessee settled for a 37-yard field goal by Rob Bironas to make it a 7-3 game with 9:30 left in the first half.

Stewart, who’s been incredibly durable in his career, received words of encouragement from his teammates just before he was carted off the field and taken to the hospital.

Mike Otto replaced Stewart on the offensive line, which also suffered an injury to left guard Steve Hutchinson (right knee), who was replaced by Kevin Matthews in the second quarter.

“It’s tough seeing your friends go down like that. Dave looked like he was in a good amount of pain and then to see the air cast come out, it’s not a good thing,” Otto said. “Yes, it’s tought when you have to shuffle around like that, but we have to step up. We know that’s part of the game, and we have to finish the game and do whatever we can do.”

Hutchinson was forced back onto the field for one play in the third quarter when left tackle Michael Roos missed a play because of injury. The injury to Roos prompted a shuffle by Titans coaches, who moved Otto to left tackle, Hutchinson to left guard, Matthews to center, and Fernando Velasco from center to right tackle. Only right guard Deuce Lutui lined up at his starting spot for a third-and-10 play on which Locker scrambled for a 15-yard gain but fumbled the football at the Tennessee 36.

DEFENSE HOLDS FOE UNDER 25: The Titans held an opponent to less than 25 points for the third straight week, but the Titans fell to 1-2 in that span.

Tennessee allowed a 54-yard touchdown pass from Matt Schaub to Lestar Jean on third-and-8 to end the opening series, but prevented the Texans from any other long scoring drives.

The unfortunate part for Tennessee’s defense was that Houston got the ball at or inside the Tennessee 20 two additional times and capitalized with touchdowns both times.   

The Titans limited the Texans to 4-for-17 (24 percent) on third down conversions.

“We did a decent job on defense,” defensive end Derrick Morgan said. “We gave up that drive in the beginning of the game and had some short fields to defend. But as far as the game, we have to go out there and stop them and hold them every time.”

BRITT BACK IN END ZONE: Britt scored a touchdown for the second consecutive week. Britt faked an inside route then zoomed down the sideline where the ball met him in the end zone.

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