Jake Locker was not on target with every one of his throws. When the Tennessee Titans quarterback missed the mark, though, he missed everything else as well.
The Arizona Cardinals, who were not as quick to pick a starting quarterback, were not as fortunate.
That was the difference Thursday as the Titans built a big lead yet still needed a fourth quarter rally to win 32-27 in their first home game of the preseason.
Tennessee's defense intercepted three passes against the two Arizona quarterbacks in competition for the job and turned them into 14 points. Then it got nine points off a pair of fourth-quarter fumble recoveries after the Cardinals had gone in front with a run of 17 straight points.
Jamie Harper’s 16-yard touchdown run with 5:27 to play was the game-winning score.
“It’s hard to go on the road and win a game when you turn the football over like we did,” Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “We made a number of mistakes. … [That] is a good team defensively and at home, their first game, they were really getting off the ball quick, I thought.”
The Titans forced five giveaways in all and finished plus-4 in turnovers. It was the interceptions that provided the bulk of that margin.
Locker, three days after he was named the starter for the season, played well into the third quarter and completed just 11 of 20 passes for 134 yards. Only once did he lead a drive that included more than one first down but none of his errant throws ended up in the hands of an Arizona defender.
By contrast, Arizona’s John Skelton and Kevin Kolb combined for 21 completions in 32 attempts but threw three to the Titans. Each has started two games in the preseason — Skelton started this one — and Whisenhunt has said he is prepared to wait until the first week of the regular season to make his choice.
“We are creating turnovers,” coach Mike Munchak said. “The defense [Thursday], they dominated the game until the two-minute drive at the end of the first half. … We dominated up front.”
That led to big plays behind them.
The first interception came on the second snap of the first half for the Titans’ defense. Michael Griffin made that one and returned it 24 yards to the Arizona 19. Two plays later Locker connected with Kendall Wright on a 10-yard touchdown pass.
The last came on the first snap of the second half. That one was Colin McCarthy’s second of the game and he returned it 31 yards for a touchdown and a 23-10 lead (kicker Rob Bironas missed the extra point).
“I think when the defense gives you a pretty short field, like they gave us a couple times [Thursday], to come away with points is a huge momentum shift for you," Locker said. "… Anytime you’re able to take advantage of it, I think it’s good for both sides of the ball.”
While the Cardinals’ quarterback contest prompted a switch from Skelton to Kolb early in the second quarter, the Titans stuck with Locker all the way through the third quarter.
His performance included several big gains through the air, including a highlight reel 35-yard reception by tight end Jared Cook and a 28-yard touchdown pass to Nate Washington, who was wide open and raced untouched through the secondary to the end zone.
There also were a couple balls that got batted at the line of scrimmage and a couple more throws that sailed over their intended target.
“I think we missed a few first downs that we could’ve converted on, missed a couple throws on third down that could have kept drives alive, kept us on the field and possibly led to more points,” Locker said. “I think we need to get a little better on first down and not put ourselves in as many third-down ones.”
Those were mistakes, though, that the Titans could live with particularly in light of the fact that the 2011 first-round pick (eighth overall) is still a little more than two weeks away from his first career regular-season start.