Enough is enough with the doom-and-gloom mentality.
The Tennessee Titans lost Jake Locker for at least one month after he was carted off with a hip sprain during a 38-13 victory over the New York Jets. His earliest return date has been speculated for the Nov. 3 matchup against the Jeff Fisher-led St. Louis Rams. That means that Ryan Fitzpatrick would start games against the Kansas City Chiefs (4-0), Seattle Seahawks (4-0) and the San Francisco 49ers (defending NFC champions).
How unfortunate that this injury occurred during the roughest three-game stretch on the schedule. Some fans have already written off these next three games as guaranteed losses. That would put them at 3-4 with five of their final nine opponents including the St. Louis Rams (Titans vs Fisher), Indianapolis Colts (2x), Denver Broncos and Houston Texans. To reach 10-6, the Titans must win at least three of those games plus the Jacksonville Jaguars (2x), Arizona Cardinals and Oakland Raiders.
It’s funny to realize how, just two weeks ago, fans were calling for Fitzpatrick. At the least, people such as me were starting to express serious doubt about Locker’s long-term potential as an NFL starting quarterback. Locker’s accuracy and pocket awareness weren’t improving. Missing Kenny Britt on that quick slant was a gut-wrenching moment because most quarterbacks would’ve delivered the death blow to the arch-rival Texans.
Fast forward two games. Locker responded with one great performance and one above-average performance with an incredible comeback drive against one of the NFL’s worst defensive backfields. Now he’s irreplaceable. There’s no chance that Tennessee wins “big games”—as Titan Sized assistant editor John Sciarretta puts it—not without Locker. Not with Fitzpatrick. The Titans are in a more hopeless situation than trying to get that second red coin without falling off the block in Super Mario 64 Dark World (it really is hopeless, at least for this guy).
Here’s my question: why can’t Fitzpatrick win one, even two of these matchups?
Fitzpatrick is a nine-year veteran who came over from the Buffalo Bills. He was their starting quarterback for about the last 3.5 seasons. While he isn’t great, Fitzpatrick is serviceable enough to win games. The Titans have a much better supporting cast than those Bills defenses that surrendered more rushing yardage than some teams allowed passing yardage. Remember how Chris Johnson would explode against them the last two seasons?
This isn’t some inexperienced quarterback who’s trying to win behind the supporting cast of the Cleveland Browns. Wait—didn’t Brian Hoyer win his first two games in that same exact predicament? The Browns No. 3 quarterback found himself in a much less favorable predicament. Yet, the Browns are finding ways to win road games (Minnesota Vikings) and versus the preseason favorites to win the AFC North (Cincinnati Bengals).
Not having Locker is no excuse to lose all three of these games. In 2010, the Pittsburgh Steelers lost Ben Roethlisberger after he was suspended for the first four games of that season. Then their No. 2 quarterback went down. Despite the situation, the Steelers started 3-1. Two of those wins came against teams who’d finish that season with 10-plus wins. They almost beat the Baltimore Ravens for an unblemished 4-0 mark.
Why did the Steelers win? Defense. Their defense kept them from drowning too early in the season. When Roethlisberger returned, he helped lead his team to an AFC Championship win.
None of these three teams are consistently explosive on offense, especially the Chiefs. While the Chiefs are much better than last year’s version, their opponent’s strength of schedule is 3-13. A road game against a Fitzpatrick-led Titans team is the biggest challenge they’ve faced to date.
No more pessimist talk: losing Jake Locker won’t spell doom for the Titans’ 2013-14 season. Fitzpatrick is more than capable of playing .500-ish ball with this roster. It’s not as though the Titans lost an All Pro quarterback on a pass-heavy offense. Fitzpatrick has won meaningful games including a head-to-head matchup against New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. There’s a much bigger talent discrepancy between Bills and Patriots than Titans and either of these next three opponents.
Chris Johnson and this defense can carry the load. Fitzpatrick will supply what’s needed.
SOURCES: Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean