The Tennessee Titans missed a chance to move closer to the AFC South lead, but rookie quarterback Jake Locker showed he can produce when given the chance.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers need to make the most of this opportunity or they could fall further back in the NFC South race.
With starter Matt Hasselbeck questionable after suffering an arm injury last week, Locker could make his first NFL start Sunday when the Buccaneers try to snap a four-game losing streak.
Trailing division-leading Houston by 1 1/2 games, Tennessee (5-5) lost more ground to the idle Texans and dropped into a pack of four .500 teams in the conference with Sunday's 23-17 loss at Atlanta.
With the Titans down 23-3 late in the third quarter, Locker entered after Hasselbeck was struck by a Falcons defender. The eighth overall pick finished 9 of 19 for 140 yards and a pair of TD passes to Nate Washington, who caught a career-best nine passes for 115 yards.
Locker helped Tennessee convert a season-high 57.1 percent (8 for 14) on third downs.
"I thought he handled himself very well there, good pocket presence, and good job in the huddle calling the plays and running the show," coach Mike Munchak said. "He checked protections, he is very comfortable doing that. You may have noticed him at the line of scrimmage making some adjustments, he felt very good doing those things."
That's a good sign for the Titans if Hasselbeck can't go. Tests on Monday did not reveal any structural damage to Hasselbeck's right forearm and elbow, and Munchak described it as more of a muscle strain.
"He's been injured in the past. He's a savvy vet," Titans fullback Ahmard Hall said. "I think it's 13 or 14 years for Matt. He's been there, done that. He'll be ready to go next week.''
Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris needs his team to be ready Sunday, and for each of the next six weeks. Tampa Bay (4-6) has dropped five of six and is three games behind South-leading New Orleans and two back of the Falcons.
"We've got six more (games)," Morris said after Sunday's 35-26 loss in Green Bay. . "... There's still time to get hot. We can still finish with the same record we had last year (10-6) if we get our minds right, go out and play hard, fast, physical and smart."
Third-year quarterback Josh Freeman hasn't had the most impressive season - he's already been picked off 15 times - but he threw for a career-best 342 yards Sunday with two fourth-quarter TD passes to help Tampa Bay rally from 14-0 down.
Freeman knows it's going to take more of these types of efforts for the Buccaneers to make a late-season push.
"You have to go out and approach every week from here on out as a much-win situation," he said. "You try to win them all, but right now it's very crucial that we go out and take advantage of every opportunity."
LeGarrette Blount has made the most of his chances since the Titans cut him last September, supplanting Cadillac Williams as Tampa Bay's starter and running for 1,548 yards in 21 games.
"It looks like he is doing a great job for them and it ended up being a great fit for him last year with them picking him up and getting a chance to play and he has taken full advantage of it," Munchak said of Blount, who had a 54-yard TD and 107 rushing yards Sunday.
Munchak wishes his backfield was that opportunistic. One of the main reasons the Titans are averaging a league-low 77.3 rushing yards is the play of Chris Johnson. The three-time Pro Bowler is running for a career-low 3.2 yards per carry after being held to 13 on 12 rushes Sunday.
"You go back to the last game (a 30-3 road win over Carolina on Nov. 13) and I got 130 (yards) and everything was good,'' Johnson said. "You come back to this game and nothing is working. It goes back to the offense not executing, not being consistent."
Munchak is looking for better offensive line play, but that unit could be without right tackle David Stewart after he suffered a calf injury Sunday.
Former Buccaneer Barrett Ruud (groin) is also questionable. Titans rookie linebacker Colin McCarthy, who forced a fourth-quarter fumble against Atlanta, would be the likely replacement if Ruud can't go.
The last time these teams met, Tampa Bay won 13-10 on Oct. 10, 2007, to snap a five-game skid to the Titans franchise.
The Buccaneers have lost both games in Tennessee - 33-13 in their last visit on Dec. 23, 2003 - after going 0-4 when playing in Houston.