published Monday, September 10th, 2012

Wiedmer: Tennessee Titans are no match for Patriots in Nashville as NFL opens 2012 season

Tennessee Titans quarterback Jake Locker (10) loses the ball as he is hit by New England Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones (95) in the second quarter of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 9, 2012, in Nashville, Tenn. New England Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower recovered the ball and ran for a touchdown.
Tennessee Titans quarterback Jake Locker (10) loses the ball as he is hit by New England Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones (95) in the second quarter of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 9, 2012, in Nashville, Tenn. New England Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower recovered the ball and ran for a touchdown.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

NASHVILLE -- New England linebacker Jerod Mayo wasn't in the mood to rate the Patriots' 34-13 road victory over the Tennessee Titans Sunday afternoon at LP Field.

"Our goal is to win, period," said the former Tennessee Vol. "Any win is a good win, especially on the road."

The question for Titans Nation is whether or not any good can come from a 21-point loss in a home opener.

After a largely feel-good 9-7 season a year ago that fell one "W" short of the playoffs, is this a step backward?

Or are the Patriots -- who lost to the New York Giants in last year's Super Bowl -- once again that good?

"I'm not going to put any team in the Super Bowl after one game," said Titans linebacker Will Witherspoon as he slipped on a University of Georgia polo shirt, understandably proud of his alma mater's Southeastern Conference win at Missouri on Saturday night.

"But the Patriots looked like the Patriots, which means they looked pretty tough out there."

Yet 'Spoon wasn't entirely frustrated by the defeat.

"Yes, it's a tough loss," he said. "Home opener. Great crowd. You want to do well. But we never gave up. We fought hard the whole game. As long as we'll do that, the wins will come."

Beyond a beautiful blue sky, 74-degree temperature and 45 percent humidity, this game began with much promise for the home team and its 69,143 fans.

Not five minutes along, the Titans facing a 4th and 1 at the New England 37, second-year Tennessee quarterback Jake Locker made a decision bathed in both guts and glory.

Deciding the play called from the sideline wouldn't work, Locker checked into a pass play to be run down the left sideline to Nate Washington, who caught all four of the QB's touchdown passes a year ago.

Sure enough, Washington got a step on his defender, Locker launched a perfect strike and the Titans picked up 24 yards to the NE 13.

But they wound up having to settle for a field goal, and as Tennessee coach Mike Munchak said afterward, "When you play a good football team ... you can't blow opportunities. They're going to come back to haunt you."

Indeed, by the end of the first quarter the Patriots led 7-3. By halftime -- thanks partly to a Locker fumble being scooped up by former Alabama great Don't'a Hightower for a 5-yard score -- the visitors were on top 21-3.

"That's not a hit where the ball should come out," said Locker, who left the game for good in the fourth quarter after bruising his shoulder making a tackle following a Titans fumble.

"I can't fumble in that situation."

Of course, Munchak also said that he would have preferred, "[Locker] not go in there and tackle somebody."

Then again, if the replacement referees had called the ball incomplete initially instead of waiting for the replay booth to decide whether or not it was a fumble, Locker wouldn't have been forced to choose between pleasing his coach or the fans.

Not that Locker saw it as a choice.

"I thought it was football," he said defiantly. "I'm not going to let a guy run into the end zone."

But can the Titans get it into the end zone well enough to become a playoff contender.

Though Tennessee went 3-1 in the preseason, Locker threw just two touchdowns while surrendering one interception.

Optimists would point to his passing stats against the Pats -- 23-for-32 for 229 yards, one touchdown and one interception -- and find them remarkably similar to New England's future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady (23-of-31 for 236 yards, two TDs and zero interceptions).

And Locker did have his moments. But maybe that's also because the Patriots chose to give him those moments, smartly electing to blanket the Titans' ground game (20 total yards and just four for Chris Johnson), confident that Locker couldn't beat them.

A single quote from Brady to upset the Titans Nation: "The toughness of your team is built around running the ball and stopping the run."

Having given up 162 rushing yards to the Pats, the Titans failed on both fronts in that mission.

Still, it is just one game, and as reserve quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said, "We're playing one of the best teams in the world."

But for future games not to resemble this one, the Titans will need to make a world of improvement going forward.

Or as Washington said afterward, "This is not what we worked for all training camp. You can't turn the ball over and you have to get touchdowns."

Especially against one of the best teams in the world.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6273.

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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