What a win!
The Titans needed an epic goal line from Wesley Woodyard and the defense after controlling most of the second half, but they got the job done when it mattered. It was one of the wilder games we’ve seen at Nissan Stadium and it gets Tennessee to 3-4 — the same record they were sporting at this time last year — and just a game and a half back of the division leading Colts.
Don't get me wrong... this was far from a perfect performance — the Titans were within inches of losing multiple times — but it’s a game that provides some hope for a team that previously had very little. There will be a ton to get into from this one this week, but let’s start with the winners and losers from Titans 23, Chargers 20.
Jeffery Simmons: Winner
So much for being eased back in. The Titans got their first round defensive lineman involved early and often in this game, just 8 months removed from ACL surgery. The results were impressive. Simmons contributed four tackles, two tackles for loss, and his first career sack, immediately looking like the interior wrecking ball the Titans thought they were getting when they selected him with the 19th overall pick.
Keep in mind that Simmons had just one week of live practice under his belt coming into this game. It’s absolutely insane that he was able to make this kind of impact so quickly. Just imagine what he’s going to be like when he’s actually 100% healthy.
Ryan Tannehill: Winner
The somewhat controversial move to bench Marcus Mariota and insert Ryan Tannehill into the starting lineup paid immediate dividends. The former Dolphin went 23 of 29 (79.3%) for 312 yards (10.8 YPA) with 2 touchdowns and an interception. Almost as important as the production, he took just 2 sacks.
Now, before we get too excited, it should be pointed out that the Chargers defense isn’t exactly the ‘85 Bears and they were missing star pass rusher Melvin Ingram in this game as well as Derwin James, who has been out all season. That being said, it was a very impressive performance from Tannehill in his first start as a Titan. He got Corey Davis, A.J. Brown, and Adam Humphries all involved, with each of the top three receivers catching at least four passes.
Even if you want to discount the performance based on strength of opponent, there were throws that Tannehill made in this game that showed a level of fearlessness attacking tight windows that this offense has been begging for this season.
It’s just one game, but Tannehill’s impressive start should give some renewed hope that this team can squeeze league average play out of this offense, and as the defense continues to prove, that’s generally enough for this team to win.
Wesley Woodyard: Winner
The Titans clearly missed Jayon Brown in this game. Being without their best coverage backer left Tennessee exposed against guys like running back Austin Ekeler (7 catches, 118 yards, 1 TD) and tight end Hunter Henry (6 catches, 97 yards), positions that the versatile Brown often helps erase for this defense.
That being said, what a luxury it is to have Wesley Woodyard on this team. The veteran made the play of the game when he raked the ball out of Melvin Gordon’s arms to save the day for the Titans. That goal line stand was all about attitude and no player exemplifies the right attitude more than Woodyard.
Dean Pees: Loser
Look, it’s hard for me to get too critical of Pees right now as his unit has put this team on its back for the first seven games of the season. In fact, they’re the first team since the 2013 Chiefs to start the season by holding their opponent to 20 points or less for seven straight games. Those are the only two teams who have done that this decade, though the Patriots could join them next week.
All that being said, this wasn’t Pees’ best game. Philip Rivers is always a tough quarterback to pressure because of how quickly he gets the ball out, but the Titans rarely made the Chargers QB uncomfortable outside of Simmons’ sack and a couple pressures from Harold Landry and Cameron Wake. He also went into a “safe”, soft defensive shell way too early after Derrick Henry’s touchdown run gave the Titans a 23-13 lead, letting the Chargers to drive 75 yards in just four plays and 1:30 of game time to cut the lead to 23-20.
That was the one concern with Pees when he signed on with the Titans and it had yet to really rear its head until today. Obviously, the good has far outweighed the bad with him, but today was almost a huge letdown.
Corey Davis, A.J. Brown, Adam Humphries, and Tajae Sharpe: Winners
All four of the Titans receivers made big plays in this game. I’ve been saying for weeks that this group has been the strength of the offense and that inconsistent targets and opportunities was all that was keeping them from putting up numbers that matched their play. Well, today we saw just what this group can do. And before you get into the “but the Chargers” stuff, this was against a secondary that featured Casey Hayward and Desmond King, two of the better cornerbacks in the league.
Davis led the group with 6 catches for 80 yards and a touchdown, making several tough catches throughout the day, including the touchdown grab (think he was fired up to get back in the end zone?).
Brown also hauled in 6 grabs for 64 yards, including a couple huge 3rd down conversions.
Humphries caught all 4 of his targets for 40 yards.
Sharpe added 2 catches for 19 yards, including a nifty touchdown grab in the back of the end zone.
When given the opportunity, these guys continue to make plays. The Titans have good wide receivers. It’s weird to say, but it’s true.
Jonnu Smith: Winner
Delanie Walker left this game early with an ankle injury so Smith and Anthony Firkser carried the pass catching load for the Titans tight ends and did a great job.
Smith finished with 3 catches for 64 yards while Firkser added 27 yards on his only catch. Getting 91 yards out of 4 targets to your tight ends is a pretty good day.
We've been (justifiably) critical of the offensive staff this year, but if you want a guy who has shown a lot of improvement on that side of the ball from 2018 to 2019, Jonnu Smith is a great example. His blocking has taken a massive leap from early 2018 and he has consistently shown the ability to make big plays with the ball in his hands too.
That 3rd and 14 conversion shows how dangerous Smith can be after the catch. All due respect to Delanie Walker — who is still a very good player at age 35 — I think the Titans have to keep finding ways to keep Smith involved. He’s just too dynamic.
Cody Parkey’s Upright Luck: Loser
Cody Parkey was on the Titans roster last week, but he got just one kickoff before the offense gave him the rest of the day off in Denver. He was much more busy today though, with mixed results.
On one hand, he was good on kickoffs and drilled a 45-yard field goal early in the game that would prove to be the difference in the final score. On the other hand, he found an upright with one of his extra points, an all too familiar experience for the veteran kicker who famously once hit the uprights four times in the same game, missing all four kicks while playing for the Bears. Of course, his time in Chicago ended after he missed a potential game winning kick that hit both uprights before bouncing out, though that kick was tipped at the line. Parkey has some sort of bad juju going on when it comes to uprights and it followed him to Nashville it seems. Luckily, his missed extra point didn’t prove costly today.
LeShaun Sims: Winner
Adoree’ Jackson — who has quietly been playing excellent cornerback recently — left this game early with a foot injury, but I barely noticed because his replacement, Sims, did a nice job coming off the bench and handling his business.
The Titans are fortunate to have Sims as a depth piece in this secondary. He’s good enough to be a starter and adds excellent special teams play in addition to games like this one where he comes off the bench to play well.
The Chargers receivers were relatively quiet in this game outside of a string of really impressive sideline toe drag catches. That’s a credit to Malcolm Butler, Adoree’ Jackson, Logan Ryan, and, in this game, LeShaun Sims.
Derrick Henry: Winner
Henry finished with 22 carries for 90 yards and a touchdown, adding a catch for 18 yards through the air for a solid day. His long was just 12 yards, but he kept the offense on schedule with tough running between the tackles, avoiding the negative runs that have plagued this team at times this year. That’s a credit to Henry and also to an offensive line that lost starters Nate Davis and Jack Conklin to injuries during the game.
Henry’s touchdown run to put the Titans up 23-13 was a great individual effort as he ran through multiple tackle attempts and erased angles with his speed to the edge.
Titans Fans: Winners
I went to this game and I’ll admit that I was a little concerned the fan base would no-show after two home losses and all the negativity surrounding the team the last couple weeks, but it turned out to be a solid crowd that got pretty loud at the end.
On another note, this fan base just needed this win. After all the bickering over Mariota recently, this felt like a good step towards rallying fans together back behind this team. At the end of the day it’s just one win — and an incredibly close one at that — but it sure beats a loss.
Those fans that did turn out to Nissan Stadium were treated with beautiful weather, a competent offense, and a spectacular finish with the good guys coming out on top. Hard to beat that. Hopefully that means a packed house for the Bucs game next week, but for now, let’s enjoy this one and bask in the glow of our shiny new first round pick.