NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee's offense pushed the tempo early and its defense forced two turnovers in the first half, helping the Titans open a new era with a 14-3 win against the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday at LP Field.
Titans coach Mike Munchak led his players and learned more about his first team, and Tennessee quarterbacks Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker led significant drives in their first possessions as Titans QBs.
Hasselbeck, a 13-year NFL veteran who signed with the Titans after the NFL lockout ended, completed his first four passes, moving the Titans to the Minnesota 16-yard-line in about three-and-a-half minutes and without facing a third down.
"This offense has a lot of check-with-me type things where it could be a run left to run right to pass," Hasselbeck said, "so the quicker you get to the line of scrimmage the more time you have to make those decisions, the more pressure you put on the defense to hurry up and line up. That worked to our advantage for sure, especially in the running game.
"I thought we did a great job of controlling the line of scrimmage and running the ball really well the first drive, and it's because we were in great play calls every time because of our tempo," Hasselbeck continued.
Wide receiver Lavelle Hawkins, who made a diving catch for 20 yards on Hasselbeck's second throw said Titans offensive coordinator Chris Palmer was being aggressive.
"I have to give it all to Chris because Chris is a guy who wants to attack the defense. He didn't care if it was preseason or not," Hawkins said. "Our offense can start fast. That's what we did—we got the ball downfield."
The first drive, however, was halted when Hasselbeck and fullback Ahmard Hall brushed arms as Hasselbeck was trying to hand off the ball to tailback Javon Ringer. The ball was kicked backward 30 yards before it was recovered by Ringer. Hasselbeck finished 5-for-6 for 55 yards and a passer rating of 104.9.
Locker, whom the Titans drafted with the No. 8 pick in April, led the Titans on a 14-play drive in his first series. The rookie converted the first three third downs he faced with completions of 6, 7 and 13 yards on third and two, third and five and third and 10. The drive, however, ended on a 38-yard field goal attempt by Rob Bironas that went just left of the uprights.
Locker, rookie classmates capitalize
Locker completed 7 of 10 passes for 89 yards and turned a miscue into a touchdown pass. After a Minnesota turnover, Locker dropped the snap but picked up the ball and hit Yamon Figurs in stride for a 45-yard touchdown. Locker played into the third quarter and finished with a passer rating of 130.8.
"I wish that's how we drew it up, but yeah I wasn't ready for that snap count. Luckily we got a fortunate bounce, and it went our way," Locker said. "At first, I just wanted to get the ball back. Once I picked it up, I felt that we had really good protection and I kind of got outside the pocket a little bit. I was looking to either run or throw it away and I saw Yamon waving his arms back there by himself."
Figurs said he didn't see the snap fumbled but did notice how open he became.
"It was a fumbled snap. I didn't know at first but they told me that when I got back to the huddle," Figurs said. "I thought it was a busted coverage but (the cornerback) looked inside. We had a go route on, so it worked out perfectly."
The touchdown occurred one play after rookie defensive linemen Jurrell Casey and Karl Klug stopped Lorenzo Booker for a loss, and Casey forced and recovered a fumble by Booker. Casey, Klug and fellow rookie lineman Zach Clayton all made significant pushes into the Vikings' offensive line.
Clayton recorded one of four sacks by the Titans. Lineman Derrick Morgan, and defensive backs Myron Rolle and Pete Ittersagen also recorded sacks against Vikings quarterbacks.
"I think the guys are going good," veteran linebacker Will Witherspoon said. "It's a little different philosophy from what it was last year, but at the same time, I think the defensive line was doing a good job of pressing the pocket."
Rookie running back Jamie Harper scored the Titans' second touchdown from 2 yards and led the team with 27 yards on eight carries.
"Excited about the rookies," Munchak said. "I think we have been bragging on them the past two weeks, saying how well they have been doing for not having an offseason with us.
"The D-linemen, which we have been bragging on, made some plays. Karl Klug started, made some plays. Clayton, Jurrell Casey, I mean all of them contributed in some ways. It's exciting to see those guys do well in there the first time out," Munchak added.
Vikings QB Donovan McNabb converted a pair of third downs on his opening series, and Minnesota had intentions of converting third and one, but Titans defensive lineman Jason Jones stopped Toby Gerhart for no gain at the Vikings' 40-yard-line.
"That's one thing we want to focus on: Stopping the run," said Jones, who is moving from defensive tackle to defensive end this season. "This first game was good for us. It is a preseason game, but it's still important. It's still important, especially with a new coaching staff."
Morgan said it was an important play as the Titans establish themselves under new defensive coordinator Jerry Gray.
"We're trying to find our identity as a defense and a team," Morgan said. "That was really encouraging to see guys go out there and stop them on third and one. A lot of times last year, that would have been a down where the offense might have converted."