The Tennessee Titans have a new quarterback going into a crucial game against the AFC South division leader knowing one thing they must do immediately.
Not turn the ball over.
The Titans started 3-1 when they didn't turn the ball over even once. They had a season-high four turnovers in becoming the first team to lose to Jacksonville last weekend, the last a sack for a fumble returned for a touchdown.
Holding onto the ball also could help a run game that looks like what coach Mike Munchak wants one week only to disappear the next.
Now they have lost Jake Locker for the rest of the season with Ryan Fitzpatrick taking over starting Thursday against the Colts.
"Turnovers," offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said Tuesday. "That's the nice thing about this. If we eliminate the turnovers ... we'll be all right."
Munchak agreed: "We were sloppy with the ball."
The Titans still are plus-4 in turnover margin, but have lost at least two turnovers in four of their losses.
Against Jacksonville, they lost all momentum on the first offensive play when Chris Johnson didn't see a defender coming in from the outside to poke the ball out. That was Johnson's first fumble all season.
"We're a good team," Johnson said. "Just we making a lot of mental mistakes."
The Titans produced plenty of offense trying to rally against Jacksonville and outgained the Jaguars 362-214. But they settled for a pair of field goals and gave up a safety when right guard Chance Warmack was flagged for holding in the end zone. A week after rushing for a season-high 198 yards, they also couldn't pick up a first down at the end of the third quarter on third-and-1.
The rally came once Fitzpatrick took over for the injured Locker, who was put on injured reserve Tuesday.
Fitzpatrick threw for 264 yards with two touchdowns and also ran for a 4-yard TD. But Fitzpatrick, who was intercepted four times in two starts last month, had the ball stripped from him in the fourth quarter.
Colts coach Chuck Pagano was impressed by Fitzpatrick's comeback, even though the Titans just missed. He said Fitzpatrick is more than capable.
"He's athletic enough to extend plays, makes all the reads, has the arm talent to beat you," Pagano said. "He's got a bunch of weapons around him, obviously a great run game that you got to contend with. Ryan's done it and done it for a long time and won games."
The key for both Fitzpatrick and the Titans may be they've both had more time together. Both Loggains and Fitzpatrick said those two starts helped them both have a better feel and rhythm together.
With center Brian Schwenke likely out Thursday with an injured right ankle, Fitzpatrick also will be working with someone he's practiced with plenty in veteran Chris Spencer.
The Titans have struggled early in games this season, being outscored 36-27 in the first quarter. Three of the turnovers to the Jaguars came before halftime.
Fitzpatrick said a good start against the Colts will be important for momentum because during early struggles it's almost seemed as if the Titans are waiting for someone to step up and make a play.
"When things are doing well, you can feel that momentum and feels like the football field gets slanted and it gets you on a roll and you start scoring points," Fitzpatrick said. "It'd be good to get that going early."
Munchak said the Titans have to make sure to help Fitzpatrick as well. And yes, protect the ball.
"We got to make sure that part doesn't creep back in," Munchak said.
Notes: RT David Stewart (shoulder) practiced fully Tuesday and is expected to play after missing two straight games. RG Chance Warmack (ankle) practiced after sitting out Monday's walk-through. ... Munchak said Locker is likely to have surgery to repair his right foot, but did not have any details.
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