NASHVILLE – The Titans beat the Falcons 28-23 on Sunday at Nissan Stadium.
Here's a look at six things that stood out from the contest:
Levis Was "Ballin"
Titans running back Derrick Henry said it best: Rookie quarterback Will Levis was ballin'. In his NFL debut, Levis threw four touchdown passes, with a 130.5 rating, and he made some incredibly accurate throws. In the process, Levis became just the third QB in NFL history to throw four TDs in his first NFL start, and just the fifth qualifying player in NFL history to record a passer rating of 130.0 or better in his first NFL game. "He was playing out of his mind," Henry said of Levis. I thought Levis played with poise, made good decisions, and he showed some moxie. He had a blast along the way. "Like I've been saying," Levis said, "this is the game I love, and there's nothing better than winning a football game."
One of the biggest topics after the game centered on quarterback Malik Willis, who played just two snaps. The reason: Boos could be heard loud and clear at Nissan Stadium when Willis entered the game each time. Teammates didn't like hearing them. "For Titans fans, us in the locker room, we don't appreciate the boos for Malik," receiver DeAndre Hopkins said. "He's on this team and he's part of us. That's not something I expected coming here, and I don't think that's very fair." Willis couldn't handle a high snap on his first play, which resulted in a fumble. He ran for four yards on the other play. "Everybody's entitled to how they want to feel," Henry said. "There's no need of booing. We understand that they're frustrated … (but) Malik wants to win just as bad as anybody on this team and this organization and the fan base as well." This is my take on the situation: I didn't think fans were necessarily booing Willis, but instead they were booing the decision to play him on those snaps instead of Levis. Perhaps it was a combination of both? Either way, it was a bad look, and sound.
Titans receiver DeAndre Hopkins had a breakout game in Tennessee, catching four passes for 128 yards and three touchdowns. Hopkins made touchdown grabs of 16, 47 and 61 yards, getting deep and behind defenders. Hopkins now has 504 yards on 31 catches through seven games. He's proven to be a great addition for the team, despite what some folks across the NFL thought about his potential heading into his 11th NFL season. "I really don't care too much about what goes on outside of my control," Hopkins said. "I trust God. I've trusted God my whole life. For me to be in the NFL playing football, I am thankful. … I am grateful to be here."
Titans running back Derrick Henry was a workhorse, carrying the ball 22 times for 101 yards. Henry averaged 4.6 yards per carry. His longest run was 14 yards. I thought Henry made life easier for Levis, because he managed to get five and six yards on a number of his first down runs, and created shorter down and distance situations. Fellow running back Tyjae Spears also provided a 23-yard bolt, but had just three carries in this one as the Titans relied on Henry. After the game, Henry was asked about some of the swirling rumors regarding his future leading up to the game. He expressed thankfulness for being a part of the franchise. "I'm a Titan, and I'm happy to be a Titan," Henry said. "I am going to do everything I can to help this organization continue to win."
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. Linebacker Jack Gibbens, and Denico Autry also added sacks for the Titans. "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."
Stonehouse Hitting Bombs
Titans punter Ryan Stonehouse played a big role in the contest with some bombs, which put the Falcons in a hole on a lot of their possessions. The Falcons had drive starts at their own 7, 12, 13, and 15 after Stonehouse punts. Stonehouse had punts of 55, 66 and 72 yards, and six of his eight punts were inside the 20 on a day when he averaged 52.5 yards (gross), and a 46.8-yard net. Tight end Kevin Rader hustled downfield to down the ball at the seven. "Stoney, he can flip the field," Titans Coach Mike Vrabel said. "He kicks a 70-yarder and I'm over there talking about, 'Man, I wish it would stop right on a dime at the five-yard line,' and then you realize it's a 51-yard net punt or whatever it is. So, he's getting better at directionally kicking them. We have to continue to cover them, get out in coverage, cast the net. … I'm very comfortable with … Stoney being able to manage the plus-50 punts and then also flip the field when we need to."
The Tennessee Titans take on the Atlanta Falcons in Week 8 at Nissan Stadium.