NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Jake Locker and Nate Washington combined for two big plays, but both left the game early on a play that should have been stopped.
Locker, the Titans' second-year QB who made his first start Sunday, checked at the line of scrimmage to complete a pass to Washington and convert fourth-and-1 on the Titans' first possession. Locker placed a well-thrown ball over Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington that Washington leaped high for and collected for a gain of 24 yards.
"We just didn't have what I thought was going to give us a chance to get that first down," Locker said. "They stacked everybody on the line of scrimmage and we had one-on-one coverage. I thought at that point it was our best shot. We got into a play that gave us that opportunity and we were able to convert on it."
The decision and execution set up a 28-yard field goal by Rob Bironas for the season's first points, but New England prevailed 34-13 in the season-opener for both teams.
Tennessee won the coin toss and opted to receive the ball. The offense responded with a 12-play, 70-yard drive that consumed six minutes, 17 seconds. The drive also included a third-down play during which Locker recorded his first completion as a starter to Titans rookie Kendall Wright for a 17-yard gain and the receiver's first catch.
The Titans' offense opened the second half with a four-play scoring drive. Locker avoided a sack by Patriots rookie Chandler Jones and fired the ball where only Washington could catch it. The speedy receiver then turned and zoomed into the end zone for a 29-yard score and Locker's first as a starter.
"We were on the other side of the ball to start, but we didn't get what we wanted over there," Locker said. "I felt a little pressure so I was just trying to get outside of the pocket, and I saw Nate kind of slip in behind him. It was kind of a dangerous throw, I guess, but it ended up working out for us."
Locker and Washington tried to connect again early in the fourth quarter, but Patriots defenders jarred the ball loose from Washington's grasp. Officials did not initially blow the play dead, and Patriots safety Patrick Chung picked it up and ran 49 yards until Locker tackled him. Washington hurt his leg in the collision, and Locker hurt his left shoulder making the tackle. Officials reviewed the play and determined it was an incomplete pass.
Locker lobbied to go back into the game, but the Titans opted to bring in 14-year pro Matt Hasselbeck, who led the Titans to a field goal on the possession to pull within 28-13 with 9:17 left in the game.
"He should be OK," Titans coach Mike Munchak said. "We would rather him not go in there and tackle anybody. But he did because he is so competitive, I guess. But he wanted to go back in. It is his non-throwing shoulder. We just thought at that point we wanted to be sure he got checked out before we did something like that. And the way the game was at that point, we thought we would pull him out, which we did. Assuming that he will get checked out (Monday), he should be OK for next week."
Locker connected with Jared Cook for a 35-yard gain on the Titans' first offensive snap of the second half. Two plays later, Locker located Chris Johnson over the middle for a catch-and-run that gained 16 and preceded the TD pass to Washington by two plays.
"He did a good job," Washington said. "Of course, he's a young guy so he's going to learn some things from this and get better. But, I think he did a pretty good job all around. From now on, we have to make sure we're making the plays for him. I think there were a couple of times we could have made some plays for him and we didn't. So we have to make sure we are accountable for him."
Locker completed 23 of 32 passes for 229 yards. His debut, however, was not without mistakes. He tried to hit Washington in the end zone from 48 yards early in the second quarter. Arrington tipped the ball, and Tavon Wilson collected in the end zone for a touchback.
The next mistake was more damaging because it occurred with the Titans up against their own end zone. Jones recorded a sack and forced a fumble by Locker that Dont'a Hightower recovered at the Tennessee six-yard-line and bulldozed a path to the end zone for a 14-3 lead. Locker claimed responsibility for both turnovers, but the pressure got to him quickly on the fumble.
"I thought (Locker) handled himself well," Munchak said. "I thought he came out and made some great throws early in the game. The turnover deal was a sack and a fumble. You wish those things don't happen, which ended up being seven points. The kid threw well. He's so competitive. He was fun to watch. If it wasn't for the injury, he probably finishes up with a very strong football game."
WIMBLEY SACKS BRADY: Free agent signee Kamerion Wimbley recorded the Titans' first sack of the season when he chased down Tom Brady early in the second quarter to force a punt by the Patriots.
Brady left the pocket near the right hash mark and rolled to the numbers where Wimbley pursued him for the loss of 8. Brady suffered an injury to his nose on the play, but did not miss any snaps.
ANKLE INJURY SIDELINES MCCARTHY: A key injury also affected the Titans' defense. Starting middle linebacker Colin McCarthy suffered an ankle injury with 5:53 left in the first half. He returned briefly later in the second and third quarters, but was sidelined.
"McCarthy had the ankle, came back in, went back out," Munchak said, "so we'll need to see exactly where he is and how sore he is after playing the game."
RINGER MISSES GAME: Reserve RB Javon Ringer missed the game with swelling in his elbow.
"(Ringer's) elbow I think was sore during the week," Munchak explained. "Obviously we didn't think it was a big deal, I think it gradually got a little worse and started swelling last night on him. Then this morning, it swelled up pretty good, so it could be some type of infection, so obviously he couldn't play with that. That's kind of something that happened unexpectedly and again, we assume he'll be OK going forward but not able to play in the game."
Hasselbeck said the Titans have to play through injuries and eliminate mistakes for the Titans to have better results as the season progresses.
"I think that the lesson for us, really for all of us, when one of your guys, one of your good friends goes down, you've just got to re-focus and make it happen," Hasselbeck said. "We had a number of guys go down … You've got to re-focus and you can't let it deflate you at all. You've got to execute and make plays and score touchdowns. The effort was great. We're just playing one of the best teams in the world, and you can't do the things that we did. They didn't turn it over, and we did. They ran the ball, and we didn't. All the things Coach Munchak says in the locker room — we're not inventing anything new. It's just the things we did today against a great team."