NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Titans' only complaint about their quarterback situation is finding a way to keep Jake Locker on the field longer to get more practice. Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt, meanwhile, will need to check the tape to see where his quarterbacks stand.
Locker threw for 134 yards and two touchdowns in his home debut as the Titans' starting quarterback, and he got plenty of help as Tennessee forced five turnovers in holding onto a 32-27 win over Arizona on Thursday night.
"He's our leader," Titans tight end Jared Cook said of Locker. "We had all the confidence in him. He made plays out there."
Titans coach Mike Munchak named Locker, the eighth pick overall draft pick in 2011, his starter on Monday. Locker threw both his TD passes in giving Tennessee a 17-10 halftime lead, and he was 11 of 20 for 134 yards with a 109.2 passer rating and a 23-10 lead when he left in the third quarter.
"He does things that people wouldn't notice he was doing that most young quarterbacks wouldn't even think of being able to handle," Munchak said. "Most young quarterbacks are coming out, even some veterans, they're more concerned about the coverage. He's adjusted protections and then getting into coverage. He's way ahead at the line of a lot of guys."
The Titans (No. 21 in the AP Pro32) got another strong showing on defense. End Kamerion Wimbley had two sacks, and linebacker Colin McCarthy returned one of his two interceptions 31 yards for a TD. McCarthy called the five turnovers huge for Tennessee (2-1).
"What we do in the preseason is going to build into the regular season, and we realize that. We've been consistent," McCarthy said.
Marc Mariani, a Pro Bowl returner as a rookie in 2010, broke both bones in his lower left leg at the end of a punt return and had surgery Thursday night. Munchak called the loss of Mariani, who also had become a trusted receiver, a big blow for the Titans.
The Cardinals (No. 23) struggled without left tackle Levi Brown, who tore his right triceps in Arizona's 31-27 win over Oakland last week. D.J. Young, a second-year player, started at left tackle. John Skelton, who started at quarterback for Arizona (1-3), lasted until early in the second quarter as Arizona tries to decide between him and Kevin Kolb.
"We were going against a good defensive front, and we were playing a young tackle that struggled and that makes it hard," Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "Once we got it settled down a little bit Kevin had the benefit of that and he did some good things. But we can't turn the ball over. That's the thing that was disturbing."
Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald said he's glad he doesn't have to decide who starts at quarterback with the competition still "neck and neck."
"That's a question that Coach Whisenhunt can answer," Fitzgerald said. "I'm just going to go out there and grind it out, and whoever is going to be throwing the football, I'll be out there catching it."
Skelton couldn't have started much worse. Wimbley sacked him on the Cardinals' first offensive play. Then safety Michael Griffin intercepted his pass on the next play, returning it 24 yards after fumbling the ball. Skelton played one series — a three-and-out — into the second quarter and was 4 of 10 for 41 yards with a 12.9 passer rating.
Skelton said Young got beaten along with some of his teammates on some of the plays.
"It's frustrating getting out of the game that early and seeing the offense get into a flow," Skelton said. "But you've just got to make the most of your opportunities, and tonight I don't feel I did everything I could have."
Arizona trailed 17-3 and had only 69 yards offense until Kolb found Fitzgerald on a 53-yard pass to start an 86-yard drive capped with his 3-yard TD pass to Andre Roberts.
Wimbley sacked Kolb on his first offensive play. Kolb finished 17 of 22 for 156 yards with a TD but two interceptions — both by McCarthy, the second-year middle linebacker out of Miami. McCarthy picked off a pass by Kolb late in the second quarter and intercepted Kolb's first pass 14 seconds into the third quarter that he ran back untouched for a TD.
The Titans turned safety Michael Griffin's interception into Locker's first TD this preseason. He found rookie Kendall Wright on the right sideline for a 10-yard TD pass for a 7-0 lead.
Locker overthrew a couple of receivers, including the 6-foot-5 Cook who stretched out for a nice 35-yard catch he could have taken for a TD if thrown better. Locker found Nate Washington on a crossing route for a 28-yard TD pass in an 80-yard drive he kept alive by scrambling twice for 11 yards.
"It was cool to be able to have the first start here in Tennessee and be welcomed the way I was," Locker said. "I've always appreciated this support, and I will continue to."
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