NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Titans had two touchdowns on the board Sunday before facing a third down against the Bills, but when they did, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck was on the money.
The 14-year NFL veteran guided Tennessee on a game-winning drive that he capped with a dramatic 15-yard touchdown pass to Nate Washington on fourth-and-9. Prior to that play, however, Hasselbeck showed consistent accuracy in other pressure-packed situations in the 35-34 victory at Buffalo.
Hasselbeck made his third consecutive start for injured second-year QB Jake Locker and converted four third downs on Tennessee's third possession that ended with a 1-yard run by Jamie Harper and a 21-14 lead. Hasselbeck went to Jared Cook for eight yards on third-and-6, to Damian Williams for 19 on third-and-9, to Cook for 29 on third-and-6 and to Kendall Wright for four on third-and-4 from the Buffalo nine-yard line to extend the possession.
The Titans (3-4) were a season-best 9-for-14 on third down (64 percent). Even when they didn't convert, Hasselbeck was able to get some positive yardage back before two punts, a turnover on downs and the game-winning throw on the final four possessions. He completed 11 of 12 third-down pass attempts to six different receivers, and gained first downs on seven of the 12 throws.
Locker, who underwent another MRI Monday, said Hasselbeck did an "awesome" job.
"He put our team in great situations all day and then came through with a big play at the end to win the game for us," Locker said. "It's not surprising at all. It's what he's been doing his whole career and I just happen to be on the same team as him."
Locker has been sidelined because of a shoulder injury he suffered in the season opener and reinjured at Houston on Sept. 30. He made some throws in non-contact drills in practice last week but hasn't participated in contact periods. Locker said he's missed the opportunity to play, but he's tried to help Hasselbeck and teammates every way possible.
The offense also benefitted from Chris Johnson's boost. Johnson rushed 18 times for 195 yards and two touchdowns. Johnson made a spectacular surge across the goal line from the four-yard line and became the first person in NFL history to record four career rushing touchdowns of more than 80 yards with an 83-yarder on the first play of Tennessee's second possession.
Harper scored a short touchdown on third-and-1 in the third quarter, and Johnson delivered a 27-yard gain of third-and-1 on the game-winning drive.
Locker said the success that the Titans had on third downs started with consistent plays on first and second downs.
"I thought what we did really well as an offense was get ahead of the chains on first and second downs and allow ourselves to be in really manageable third-down situations," Locker said. "You've still got to go out and execute, which we were able to do on third down. I thought Matt did a great job of finding completions that allowed us to get first downs, stay on the field and move the chains."
Hasselbeck finished the day 22-for-33 passing for 205 yards. He completed passes to eight different receivers and helped the Titans avoid committing a turnover in a road game for the first time this season. Tennessee had committed six turnovers in three previous road games.
Titans coach Mike Munchak said he "would assume" Hasselbeck will start Sunday when the Titans host the Colts (3-3) at LP Field, but Locker will return to the starting role when he's physically ready. Munchak reiterated his belief in both quarterbacks.
Kenny Britt said the offense is showing signs of progress, and the Titans' locker room believes in both quarterbacks and will stand with any decisions made by the coaching staff.
"It's definitely coming together as an offense," Britt said. "We're learning what we're good at, who we want on certain routes and whether we're good at running the ball and what plays we like and sticking with that."
Britt, who caught the first two throws from Hasselbeck for 25 yards, said the QB showed, "that he can still throw the ball and leadership to lead the team."
"He's doing that," Britt said. "He's always been a pro, and he's stepped up a lot since Jake was hurt, and he's just kept it in go."