- Paul Kuharsky, ESPN Staff Writer
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- After Justin Hunter found his way the end zone for the game winning touchdown, he couldn’t find the player parking lot at LP Field.
Such are the growing pains of an NFL rookie, still finding his way, both on and off the field.
His grab of Jake Locker's pass over cornerback Crezdon Butler just about set LP Field ablaze and showed him at his best, using his speed to get deep and his height to beat a defender to a jump ball. The result was a 20-17 win over the Chargers.
“That’s why he’s here, when Jake looked out, as well as Nate Washington and Kendall Wright were playing, he didn’t care, he was throwing the ball to Justin Hunter,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said.
Loggains said the last two or three weeks things had started to click in for Hunter, who didn’t play in the season opener and was on the field for just eight snaps in Week 2.
The game-winning play, Track Right 61 Zipper, calls for four vertical routes and doesn’t give Locker a pre-prescribed progression.
“It’s based on coverage and matchups and Jake did a great job” Loggains said. “They rotated away from Justin, put that one guy in an island and Jake knew the mismatch with that right corner, Nate was picking on him all day, [Locker] was throwing the ball there no matter what, if he was pressed, if he bailed, it didn’t matter, he was going there.”
Said Hunter on seeing the single coverage: “I was like, I have to go deep, I have to run as fast as I can and make sure the DB is nowhere around me when I get the ball, just jump for it. I had to hold on tight like it was a baby.”
In the first half Hunter had an end zone chance but it didn’t pan out.
Locker threw a 44-yard pass to him in the middle of the end zone, where he had a bit of space to work against safety Eric Weddle. Weddle got away with pass interference, but Hunter still felt like he should have pulled in the pass.
“He let the first ball come to him,” Wright said. “We told him after that, ‘Just high-point the ball.’ Nobody out there can jump with him.”
“…He’s got a lot of attributes that you can’t coach. Six-four, with a 40-something inch vertical and can run really fast but don’t even look like it. I’m happy for him, glad he made that play, I told him he should have had two touchdowns.”
As Hunter rises, Kenny Britt sinks.
He caused a stir this week with a Tweet about how he expects this is his last season with the team. He suggested he was getting blamed for mistakes he wasn’t making, the same way he felt Jared Cook did a year ago.
Britt dropped an easy pass on the first play from scrimmage and committed a false start two plays later. He was not on the field during the Titans' final drive.
“It was definitely a frustrating game for me, I’m kind of mad about how it started and how it ended,” Britt said, aiming the anger at no one but himself. “…That first series was definitely all on me. I take definite full blame for that. We could have had a great start in the game.”
He finished with two drops and two penalties, with the second flag being an illegal block above the waist.
Still, he posted a goose egg on five targets and his confidence may be at an all-time low. The team's confidence in him should be about the same.
Loggains talked of how Locker believes in Washington and Wright. The coordinator did not mention Britt. The Titans aren’t going to completely phase him out and insert Hunter as a starter, though you can make a good argument they should. Odds are over 13 more games they will need both.
While Washington was the team’s best receiver Sunday, the game had a feel of a turning point for the Titans at receiver around him.
Hunter made the big play the Titans could not find a week ago in Houston. Britt failed in his chances to make one and contribute.
Britt said he didn’t feel like there was any passing of the torch unfolding. His happy-go-lucky attitude is part of the issue here. He says he is mad, and I do not doubt that he is. But as he was grilled in front of his locker, he still smiled and laughed while talking about disappointing developments.
Maybe that’s a guy doing well to set aside his failures and celebrate a win. Maybe it’s just his personality. Maybe it’s a defense mechanism.
Or maybe it’s a guy lacking the mentality needed to rank as more than his team’s fourth receiver.