NASHVILLE – The Titans held their final dress rehearsal for the regular season on Friday night.
On center stage at the start against the Patriots: Quarterback Ryan Tannehill, and many of the team’s starters.
Tannehill only played three snaps, however, as quarterback Malik Willis led the Titans the rest of the way in a 23-7 win at Nissan Stadium.
“I loved the way that he competed, I loved it,” Titans Coach Mike Vrabel said of Willis, who finished the night 15-of-20 for 211 yards and two touchdowns, along with two interceptions. “I love what he was able to do … the way he competed and finished.”
Next up: The Titans kick off the regular season on September 10 at the New Orleans Saints.
But first, a big round of roster cuts is coming – all NFL teams must trim from 90 to 53 players by Tuesday.
While players like Derrick Henry, DeAndre Hopkins and Jeffery Simmons didn’t play against the Patriots, many of the team’s starters did, some longer than others.
Most of the first-team defense worked late into the first quarter, and some members of the team’s starting offensive line played into the second quarter.
The Titans – starters and back-ups – produced mixed results early, before surging past the Patriots in a convincing preseason win.
The Titans finished the preseason with a 2-1 record.
The Titans took a 6-0 lead early on a pair of field goals from kicker Michael Badgley, from 44 and 27 yards, but the kicker later missed a 39-yard attempt.
The Patriots then took the lead on a five-yard touchdown run from Kevin Harris, which came after an interception thrown by Willis.
But Willis later directed a 10-play, 90-yard touchdown drive that was capped off with a 12-yard touchdown pass to running back Julius Chestnut, and the Titans led 13-7 at the half.
After a scoreless third quarter, Willis guided the Titans on another long scoring drive (10 plays, 83 yards), and he capped this one off with a 26-yard touchdown toss to Kearis Jackson to make it 20-7 lead with 14:11 left in the contest.
That score came after a third quarter drive ended with another Willis interception.
“I was trying to be perfect, and you can’t be perfect – it’s not a perfect game,” Willis said. “You have to understand the people on defense get paid, too. It’s going to be about who keeps going after the mistakes, and who fights for the longest and the hardest.”
A 33-yard field goal by Badgley with 3:01 remaining made it 23-7.
The Titans recorded six sacks in the game as the defense swarmed all night, starters and back-ups.
The Titans outgained the Patriots 368 to 79 in total yards, and piled up 20 first downs to New England’s eight.
Friday night was fun for the Titans.
The coming days won’t be easy as the team trims its roster.
“As a coach, you try to be as respectful as you can knowing you are not going to be able to keep everybody,” Vrabel said. “You try to be as honest as you can about why it didn’t work and what may happen in the future. … It’s part of our game and it’s something everybody tries to do as respectfully as possible.”