NASHVILLE – On Oilers/Titans Alumni Weekend, the Titans struck oil with an electrifying win.
It was rookie quarterback Will Levis, making his first career NFL start, who provided the biggest spark in the team’s 28-23 in over the Falcons.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Levis, who finished the contest 19-of-29 for 238 yards and four touchdowns, with a 130.5 rating. “Like I’ve been saying: This is the game I love, and there’s nothing better than winning a football game.”
The Titans, decked out in Oilers throwback uniforms for the occasion, changed the subject after an eventful week, which saw veteran safety Kevin Byard traded, and starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill ruled out because of an ankle injury.
So, what did the Titans do? They showed and played one of the most exciting game they’ve played all season, with Levis and a swarming defense leading the way.
In the process, the Titans improved to 3-4 with the win.
“He was ballin’, huh?,” Titans running back Derrick Henry said of Levis. “He was playing out of his mind. It was good to see, because he works so hard. I could tell he was locked in, and we were excited to see it come together for him and the offense.”
Levis threw three touchdown passes to receiver DeAndre Hopkins – scoring strikes of 61, 16 and 47 yards. He also threw a late score to receiver Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, which ended up being the game-winner.
Levis became the third quarterback in NFL history to throw four touchdown passes in his NFL debut, joining Fran Tarkenton and Marcus Mariota.
“He’s a very talented quarterback, confident,” Hopkins, who had four catches for 128 yards in the game, said of Levis. “He plays the game like he’s been here. (OC) Tim Kelly and those guys did a great job getting him prepared today.”
After the Titans fell behind 3-0, Levis connected with Hopkins for the 47-yard touchdown pass, which electrified the Nissan Stadium crowd, and gave the Titans a 7-3 lead in the first quarter. Levis completed 6 of his first 7 passes, and he wasn’t afraid to air it out on deep shots.
He proved that all game.
Levis connected with Hopkins for another touchdown in the second quarter, this time from 16 yards, to make it 14-3. Levis was 12-of-19 for 119 yards with two touchdowns in the first half, with a 115.9 rating.
The Titans built momentum, and they dominated the first half to lead 14-3 after 30 minutes.
At the start of the second half, the Falcons cut the lead to 14-6 on their first possession, which ended with a 49-yard field goal by Younghoe Koo. Later in the third quarter, Koo made it 14-9 in a 39-yard field goal.
Then came another Levis-to-Hopkins strike, from 47 yards, to give the Titans a 21-9 lead with 1:37 left in the third quarter.
After the Falcons answered back quickly on a 13-yard run by Bijan Robinson, which made it 21-16 with 14:17 left in the contest, the Titans, and Levis, came back swinging.
Levis connected with Westbrook-Ikhine for a 33-yard touchdown toss to give the Titans a 28-16 lead with 6:59 left.
After the Falcons cut the lead to 28-23 with 3:46 left on a Taylor Heinicke touchdown pass to Scotty Miller, the Titans were able to hold on and get the win.
Henry finished the game with 101 yards on 22 carries.
The Titans were swarming on defense, sacking Falcons quarterback Desmond Ridder five times in the first half, part of six total sacks in the game. Defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons had two sacks and a forced fumble, and linebacker Harold Landry had two sacks.
“I felt like every time somebody made a play,” Landry said, “the whole team was feeding off of it. And that’s how it’s got to be, for real, for real. We know how good we are up front, and we just have to go out there and cut it loose.”
The Titans to action on Thursday night in Pittsburgh against the Steelers.
“I think you can build off a win,” Titans Coach Mike Vrabel said. “Now we have to recover, we have to get back, and go on the road to Pittsburgh. We know how hard that is to win, at night, on a short week.
“But I am excited. I am excited that we won.”