Titans rookie Justin Hunter looks to build off game-winner
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Upon hauling in the game-winning touchdown with 15 seconds remaining in the Titans’ win Sunday over the Chargers, all rookie receiver Justin Hunter did was act like he been there before.
Thing is, he hadn’t.
Not only was the 34-yard game-winning reception to give the Titans (2-1) a 20-17 come-from-behind win his first NFL touchdown, but it was also his first pro catch as well. And what did he do right after out-leaping Chargers cornerback Crezdon Butler in the right corner of the end zone for the catch?
Hunter just nonchalantly laid the ball on the ground for the referees to gather before starting to celebrate with teammates. Later, he made sure the ball was retrieved, and he had it in his locker on Monday and said it was headed to his mother.
“I didn’t know what to do with the ball,” said Hunter, the second-round draft pick out of Tennessee who’s expected to use his 6-foot-4 frame and athleticism to evolve into a lead receiver. “I dropped it, and asked them go get it back. I’m going to take it home and give it to my mom.”
Hunter’s progress has been slow to develop through training camp and the first few games of the season, but he appears to be the heir apparent to receiver Kenny Britt, who did not have a catch Sunday and is in the final year of his initial contract. Britt, a former first-round draft pick, was on the sideline as Titans quarterback Jake Locker led the 94-yard winning drive that culminated with Hunter’s catch.
Hunter thanks the hounding he has received from Titans defensive backs to help push his progress, especially from veteran safety Bernard Pollard.
“It brings the best out of you,” Hunter said. “I appreciate all the tough talk like (from) Bernard and all that. It showed on the field.”
Hunter said he feels like he can contribute even more as the Titans go forward, including Sunday’s game at LP Field against the visiting New York Jets.
“I feel everything is still slowing down to me,” he said. “I’m getting everything, you know, taking the plays day-by-day and learning everything.”
Titans head coach Mike Munchak said the athletic play by Hunter on the game-winning catch is why the Titans drafted him.
“That just shows you what his ability is, why we are so excited about him,” Munchak said of Hunter, a Virginia Beach, Va., native who was a high school track national phenom. “He just adds another element to our offense.”
On the final game-winning drive, Locker completed 8-of-10 passes. One that went incomplete was intended for tight end Delanie Walker, who had the ball bounce off his chest and nearly into the hands of a Chargers defender for an interception to preserve the San Diego win.
But Walker turned from offense to defense to break up the play and sustain the drive. On the play, however, the free agent signee formerly with the 49ers sustained an injured toe that has him walking around in a protective boot.
“It’s just a little sore,” said Walker, who was slowed in training camp by offseason knee surgery. He is expected to play Sunday versus the Jets.
“The boot is helping me walk better. I can play with the boot,” he said with a laugh.
In Sunday’s win, Walker showed more of what he was signed by the Titans to do. He had five catches for 49 yards, including a long of 17 yards, to finally become an integral part of the offense. In the previous two games, the eighth-year veteran had only four catches combined.
But it was Walker’s determination on the big play to break up the interception that caught Munchak’s eye.
“I think he said afterwards that, ‘I wasn’t going to be the guy that let the guy have an easy play to make there.’ That’s a phenomenal play by him,” Munchak said. “If he catches the ball he doesn’t have to do all that, but he saved a bad situation, no doubt.”
Costly penalties are a growing concern for the Titans, who committed 11 for 116 yards – both season highs -- against the Chargers. In previous games, the Titans committed six for 60 yards in the season-opening win at Pittsburgh, followed by nine for 70 yards in the overtime loss at Houston a week ago Sunday.
“I think we’re going to harp on them,” Munchak said of the 8.7 penalties per game that has the Titans tied for fifth-worst in the NFL along with Denver and Houston. “We’re going to talk about them. We’re going to learn from them and be smarter.
“We’ve got to do all those things for sure because you can’t have those penalties to win many games. When we look at them, we’re going to break them down. We’re not going to have any excuses.”
It was quite a tumultuous week for fifth-year receiver Kenny Britt, who is in the final year of his initial contract. A week ago Sunday against Houston, he was held out of several plays by Munchak after a second holding penalty in as many weeks.
On Tuesday, he took to Twitter to voice his displeasure and forecast that he would not be with the team come next year. Against the Chargers, he dropped a pass on the team’s first play and was penalized two players later as boos rained down from the LP Field crowd.
Against San Diego, Britt had no receptions and was not on the field during any of the game-winning drive that culminated with the touchdown catch by Hunter, who many consider Britt’s future replacement as lead receiver should he not be re-signed.
“I’m sure it does,” Munchak said of Britt becoming frustrated by his lack of production and untimely penalties. Before being shut out against San Diego, he had one catch against Pittsburgh and four against Houston for a combined 43 yards and no touchdown.
“You get frustrated with those type of things,” Munchak said. “You think people are looking at everything you do.”
-- At Sunday’s game against the Jets, Volunteers for Sports, an initiative of The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee, will collect donations of new and gently-used sports equipment.
The items will distributed to local nonprofit agencies that fit The Fund’s mission of providing team membership experiences to at-risk youth in 40 area counties.
-- JOHNNYSWIM – a duo featuring Abner Ramirez and Amanda Sudano Ramirez – will perform the national anthem prior Sunday. They originated in Nashville and are now based in Los Angeles. They are distributed by Sony/RED and record for Big Picnic Records.
Country music star Gabe Dixon will perform during pregame festivities on the Titans’ party stage. He records for the Fantasy/Concord Music Group.