NASHVILLE – The Titans beat the Patriots 23-7 in the preseason finale on Friday night at Nissan Stadium.
Here's a look at six things that stood out from the contest:
"Old Soul" Denico Autry
Defensive lineman Denico Autry made his presence known in the first half with some disruptive play. Big No.96 forced Patriots quarterback Bailey Zappe into a fumble that was recovered by teammate Jayden Peevy. Autry made two swipes at Zappe on the play, and got the ball out the second time around. Later, Autry was involved in two stops at the line of scrimmage. Autry was credited with three tackles and a sack in limited action. One of the game's most underrated players sure looked to be in midseason form on Friday night. "Denico is and old soul, a no-nonsense type guy," Titans Coach Mike Vrabel said. "He has an earn-everything mentality. … He's fought for everything. I try to tell our young players: This is a great example – you guys should try to emulate him."
Three Snaps for Tannehill
Yes, Ryan Tannehill played. The Titans starting quarterback started the game and he handed the ball off on three straight plays before swapping his helmet for a baseball cap. Meanwhile, offensive stars Derrick Henry and DeAndre Hopkins went through warm-ups, but they removed their shoulder pads and watched the game from the sideline in baseball caps. If you showed up at Nissan Stadium expecting the stars to shine from beginning to end, you were probably disappointed. But this wasn't about making highlights, it was about getting a few snaps and getting out unscathed for Tannehill. Vrabel said he was satisfied with Tannehill's three snaps.
With Tannehill merely making a cameo, and rookie Will Levis not available because of a lingering injury, Malik Willis got another long stretch of action at quarterback for the Titans and he once again showed some spunk. After starting 1-of-5, Willis completed 14 of his final 15 passes to finish the game 15-of-20 for 211 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. After an early interception, Willis engineered a 10-play, 90-yard drive to give the Titans a 13-7 lead at the half. Willis connected with receiver Colton Dowell for a 30-yard completion on a nicely thrown ball across the middle, and a few plays later he stepped up to find running back Julius Chestnut for another 30-yard completion to put the Titans in scoring position. That's when Willis connected with Chestnut again, this on a 12-yard pass for a touchdown. Willis threw another interception in the third quarter, but once again he responded with a long drive, and a touchdown toss, this time a 26-yarder to receiver Kearis Jackson. "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."
Three Makes and a Miss
Michael Badgley was put in a prime position to make a case for himself as the team's kicker, so all eyes were on him last night. Badgley, signed earlier in the week after the team waived kickers Caleb Shudak and Trey Wolff, made his first two kicks, from 44 and 27 yards, although his first make went off the left goalpost. Later, Badgley missed a 39-yard field goal, but he made a 33-yarder to finish the day 3-of-4 on field goal attempts. Badgley also made his two PATs on the night. When teams across the NFL release players on Tuesday, more kickers will be available. Did Badgley do enough to convince the team to not look around? "You have to make (them)," Vrabel responded when asked his evaluation of Badgley. "I thought he bounced back, but we'll take a look at it and work through his performance and see what that looked like and then go from there."
Autry wasn't the only defensive player who balled out. The Titans were swarming on defense from beginning to end in this one, holding the Patriots to just 79 yards and eight first downs. Six Titans recorded sacks, including two from defensive lineman Michael Drumfour, and one each from Caleb Murphy, Rashad Weaver, Kyle Peko and the sack from Autry. Murphy finished the preseason with four sacks in three games. "It was so fun," Murphy said of the experience. "I love the guys that I am in the room with, every single one of them. We feed off of each other's energy, Denico, Weaver out there getting sacks, it makes you want to do it more. The preseason has been really fun, and I've loved my opportunity."
The Titans once again racked up a bunch of yards on the ground – 163 yards in all. It wasn't pretty early, as the Titans were stuffed on their first three runs of the game. Finding running room out of the gate wasn't easy. But the Titans eventually grinded out a lot of yards, from Jacques Patrick's 76 yards (on 15 carries) to Julius Chestnut's 30 yards (including 23 on one carry) to Tyjae Spears gaining 28 yards, including a 19-yarder when he broke to the outside and showed some speed. Throw in 12 rushing yards from Mason Kinsey and 17 more yards from Willis and it was a good rushing night once again. The Titans piled up 570 rushing yards in three preseason games, an average of 190 rushing yards per game.