The Tennessee Titans will go as far this season as Jake Locker takes them.
That's been the conventional wisdom since owner Bud Adams approved spending more than $100 million to shore up the defense, better protect the young quarterback and to give Locker more help on offense.
Now Locker is coming off arguably his best game in just his 14th start. Locker, Peyton Manning and Alex Smith are the only starting quarterbacks yet to be intercepted in their first three games.
Behind Locker, the Titans are off to an unexpected 2-1 start with the New York Jets (2-1) up next on Sunday.
Coach Mike Munchak believes it has helped his third-year quarterback knowing he was the starter from Day 1 this year and that Locker has gotten better each game.
"We've been talking about what we think he can do," Munchak said. "He hasn't put in one full season yet. I think he's going to do this a lot more when necessary. Everyone knows how we feel about him, but it has to happen on the field. We get that, we all know that, and so does he. I think he had the opportunity presented to him and went 94 yards."
Locker's accuracy has been his biggest issue and the reason why so many people questioned Tennessee for making him the eighth overall draft pick in 2011.
This offseason, the Titans brought in three new starters to bolster the offensive line and better protect Locker. They also signed a new tight end in Delanie Walker and drafted another receiver in Justin Hunter to give him as much help as possible.
Against San Diego, Locker got the ball at the Titans 6 with 2:05 left and no timeouts trailing 20-13. Locker completed seven passes to six different receivers and capped the drive by throwing a 34-yard touchdown pass to Hunter with 15 seconds left for a 20-17 victory. It was the second straight week Locker led a successful fourth-quarter drive of 90-plus yards. He took the Titans 99 yards for a TD in a 30-24 overtime loss at Houston
Unlike quarterbacks like Russell Griffin III, Russell Wilson or even Cam Newton, Locker didn't start as a rookie. He won the starting job in training camp going into his second season but hurt his left, non-throwing shoulder in the opener. He missed five games after aggravating the injury and wound up throwing for 2,176 yards with 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions for a 74 passer rating. He completed just 56.4 percent of his passes.
The Titans haven't asked Locker to take over games throwing yet. He is completing more of his passes at a rate of 58.6 percent and has three TD passes.
Jets coach Rex Ryan sees an improving quarterback in Locker.
"Clearly, he's always been great at running when he tucks that ball in and runs," Ryan said. "I think he's averaged about 7 yards a carry throughout his career. He's a dual-threat that way because he can run with it, but he's become more accurate as a passer."
Locker also is running more, taking advantage of his mobility that helped him run for 29 TDs in college. He had his longest run in the NFL against San Diego, going 39 yards up the middle of the field. He finished with 68 yards, his best rushing performance yet.
"Jake's a playmaker, and that's what we expect of him," receiver Nate Washington said. "He prides himself on anything he can do to help us win he'll do. We're behind him 110 percent."
Notes: WR Kenny Britt returned to practice Thursday but was limited by a cracked rib. RT David Stewart (right leg) also returned and was limited. TE Delanie Walker (right toe) did not practice but took part in a walk-through. DT Sammie Hill (right ankle), RB Shonn Greene (right knee) and LB Patrick Bailey (hamstring) did not practice.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org