At 2-4, Mike Vrabel had to try something. His ‘good to great’ motto that was used this offseason had backfired just six weeks into the season. In a make or break year, Marcus Mariota regressed. Vrabel’s hand was forced in week seven as he turned to Ryan Tannehill at quarterback against the Chargers.
The returns on the first drive? Points — which is more than you can say about any drive last week against the Broncos. Tannehill started with a big play over the middle to Jonnu Smith, but didn’t do much else. The play of the drive ended up being a fake punt with Brett Kern finding Kevin Byard to keep the drive alive.
Cody Parkey connected on a 45 yard field goal to give the Titans a 3-0 lead after the initial drive stalled. Phillip Rivers and the Chargers would immediately answer, adding three points of their own before the first quarter ended.
After some stagnant drives from Tennessee, Rivers went to work with Keenan Allen. The two quickly worked down the field in the middle of the second quarter, putting the Chargers in striking distance with a little over five minutes to play in the half.
Rivers found Melvin Gordon two plays later for the score, putting Los Angeles on top 10-3.
Finally, on the final drive of the first half, the Titans put something together. Derrick Henry finally found some room to operate, gaining chunks of 12 and 18 yards. Tannehill found A.J. Brown to get the Titans into the redzone, then capped a good-looking scoring drive with a quick strike to Corey Davis.
Out of the break, the Titans found another spark defensively as rookie Jeffery Simmons earned a sack in his NFL debut. Los Angeles punted back to the Titans, who now had a chance to take the lead.
But Ryan Tannehill gave the ball right back after he was hit in the arm during a pass attempt. That became a theme in the second half after Jack Conklin and Nate Davis exited the game.
Once again for Tennessee, Dean Pees had his defense ready to carry the fight. They were able to earn another stop, offering another opportunity to a struggling offense. This time, Tannehill got something going. Arthur Smith rolled Tannehill out of the pocket trying to neutralize that pass rush, and it worked. He found Anthony Firkser, who rumbled all the way down to the Los Angeles 20 yard line.
Tannehill continued working, hitting Adam Humphries to convert on 3rd and 11. He came back to find Tajae Sharpe in the back of the endzone for the wide open, go-ahead touchdown. But Cody Parkey doinked the extra point attempt off the upright, keeping the Tennessee lead at 16-10.
Rivers took the field and immediately hit a big play to Hunter Henry to flip the field. However, that’s about all the progress he could make. The Chargers brought on Chase McLaughlin for the 50 yard try — which was good — to cut it back to a 16-13 game.
Now under ten minutes, the Titans had a chance to go put this one out of reach. Tannehill started the drive hot, and with protection. A strike to Corey Davis gained 38 yards, putting the Titans into Chargers territory. Derrick Henry moved the sticks running behind Taylor Lewan and Rodger Saffold, keeping the clock moving.
Arthur Smith dialed up a toss play to Henry, who did the rest. He walked in from ten yards out, stretching out the Tennessee lead to 23-13.
But Phillip Rivers wouldn’t go quietly. After struggling all day with this Titans defense, Rivers uncorked one to running back Austin Ekeler down the sideline. Ekeler hauled it in, flipping the script in this one. It was a play where Dean Pees almost certainly was missing Jayon Brown.
Suddenly, this was back to a 23-20 game.
With under five minutes to play, Smith’s unit needs a couple of first downs. On a key 3rd and four, Tannehill picked up one of those first downs, finding A.J. Brown on a slant. That connection put Tannehill over 300 yards for the day, but more importantly kept the clock moving.
Anthony Lynn began burning through his timeouts, trying to salvage one more possession for his offense. After two stops, Tannehill faced another 3rd down — which he did not convert. But he did get right to the sticks, once again finding Brown. On fourth and inches, the always aggressive Mike Vrabel kept his offense on the field.
It was a quarterback sneak, which Tannehill did not convert. The spot was ... iffy at best. Vrabel didn’t challenge, so the defense came back onto the field. Rivers had a little over two minutes to get three for the tie, or a touchdown to win.
Rivers quickly got into field goal range with a dump off to Mike Williams. He found the redzone on the next throw, hitting Austin Ekeler again. Two snaps later it was Ekeler again, getting to the goal line with 39 seconds left.
A false start would back the Chargers up five yards, however. On the next snap, Malcolm Butler was called for pass interference on Williams, putting Los Angeles right back at the goal line. Melvin Gordon was stopped short of the line on the next play, then fumbled on the next attempt.
It was Jurrell Casey who knocked the ball loose. Through all of the confusion, the Titans came away with the football, winning the game with an unreal goal line stand.
So the Titans blew it, then the Chargers appeared to win it, but after multiple reviews and a Melvin Gordon fumble, Tennessee walked away with a win.
Got it? Good.
Ryan Tannehill ended the day 23-29 for 312 yards and two touchdowns. He and the Titans will move to 3-4 on the year and will face Tampa Bay next Sunday afternoon.