The Tennessee Titans claimed another hard-fought victory on Sunday, defeating the Denver Broncos 17-10 in a nail-biter. Ryan Tannehill returned under center and led the Titans to a second-half comeback despite a slow start offensively. A flea flicker touchdown to Nick Westbrook-Ikhine gave the Titans a 14-10 lead and they never looked back.
It represented a creative play call from offensive coordinator Todd Downing, who’s often been criticized for his lack of imagination. Downing got too imaginative in the fourth quarter, however.
The Titans had possession up 14-10 from Denver’s 35-yard line. It was a crucial third-and-2 with 7:42 remaining in the fourth quarter. Rookie quarterback Malik Willis surprisingly entered the contest, sending Tannehill to the sidelines. Willis took the snap in play action and proceeded to “execute” an option with Derrick Henry. Willis was at fault for a fumbled exchange, and the Broncos recovered the live ball.
Defense coming up CLUTCH.— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) November 13, 2022
: CBS pic.twitter.com/OgMzb275cP
It was awfully similar to a late-October error Willis made against the Indianapolis Colts.
In that contest, the Titans were attempting to secure victory while milking a 16-7 lead in the fourth quarter. Rookie quarterback Malik Willis came in motion into the backfield on a first-and-10 from Indianapolis’ 44-yard line with 11:10 remaining. Tannehill extended the ball in Willis’ direction, who sloppily fumbled the exchange. Colts linebacker Bobby Okereke pounced on the fumble and the Colts were afforded a new lease on life. The Titans ultimately won that contest, like they did on Sunday. They escaped unscathed in both instances.
Tannehill has run the option alongside Henry with success in recent years. Perhaps the Titans weren’t comfortable with Tannehill executing such a play due to his lingering ankle injury. But Downing should have responded by realizing the play simply isn’t an option at this point in time, not by inserting Willis, who had a fumbled exchange in a similar scenario just weeks ago.
Perhaps it’s time to remove this one from the playbook altogether until Willis proves he can execute it with consistency.