INGLEWOOD, Calif. – No Derrick Henry.
Two starting offensive linemen out.
A decided underdog against a team with the best record in the NFL.
Sounds like a perfect setup for a Hollywood script-like win for the Tennessee Titans, huh?
And that's exactly what America and Titans fans were treated to here before 71,785 fans at SoFi Stadium on Sunday Night Football.
The Titans traveled to the West Coast and got In-N-Out with a big, 28-16 win over the Los Angeles Rams.
"It's great to get a win," Titans safety Kevin Byard said after the game. "We obviously understood the situation with Derrick (being out) and all of that, but we're just a resilient bunch. … We pretty much did whatever we needed to do to get a W, and we talked about that in the locker room. The only stats that matter are '7-2.' Power rankings, and all that stuff, don't matter."
Yes, the win improved Tennessee's record to 7-2, and it gave the team its fifth straight win, the last four against playoff teams from 2020. The Rams, meanwhile, dropped to 7-2.
"I feel like K.B. said it best in the locker room," Titans outside linebacker Harold Landry said of Byard. "He was like: We are not out to prove people wrong, but to prove ourselves right. We know how talented we are in that locker room, and the group of guys that we have, man. We just go to work every day and play our ass off week in and week out, and we know that stuff like that can happen."
Running back Adrian Peterson started at running back in place of Henry, who was injured in last Sunday's game at Indianapolis. The Titans played without starting left tackle Taylor Lewan and starting right guard Nate Davis.
Peterson scored a touchdown in his Titans debut, a clinching one-yard run with 3:00 left. He finished the game with 21 rushing yards on 10 carries on a night when the Titans ran for 69 yards and quarterback Ryan Tannehill passed for 143.
But this night belonged to the defense, as they tallied five sacks and also scored a touchdown on a Pick-Six.
"We knew that a lot of people were doubting us," said Titans defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons, who had three sacks himself. "But one thing I was saying on the sideline: Defense wins championships. … We played a complete game on defense. We have a tough team, and we're going to fight to the end all four quarters. I couldn't be more proud than to be on this team."
The Titans started out like gangbusters on the defensive side of the football, and they finished the game with the season-high five sacks while slowing down the high-powered Rams offense all night, holding them to field goals in three drives when they reached Tennessee territory.
The Rams took a 3-0 lead early, before the Titans surged.
With the Rams backed up near their own end zone early in the second quarter, Simmons forced Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford into a bad throw from his own end zone, and it was intercepted by Titans linebacker David Long Jr and returned to the two-yard line.
On the next play, Tannehill connected with tight end Geoff Swaim for a two-yard touchdown to give the Titans a 7-3 lead.
When the Rams got the ball back, Byard intercepted Stafford and returned it 24 yards for a touchdown to give the Titans a 14-3 lead.
The Titans pressured Stafford right out of the gate, as defensive linemen Denico Autry and Simmons each recorded sacks on the opening possession. The Titans recorded four sacks in the first half – three by Simmons and one by Autry. Later, Landry and Autry combined for another sack.
The Titans didn't let up, and their lead ballooned to 21-3 when Tannehill scored on a one-yard touchdown run on a fourth-and-goal from the one-yard line with 2:04 left before the half. The score capped a 14-play, 64-yard drive that took 7:39 off the clock, and it left the crowd at SoFi Stadium stunned.
The Titans led 21-3 at the half.
The Rams cut the lead to 21-6 midway through the third quarter after a nice defensive stand for the Titans, who forced Los Angeles to kick a 22-yard field goal after they had a first-and-goal at the Tennessee 4. The Rams cut it to 21-9 on another field goal by kicker Matt Gay, this one from 54 yards out, on the first play of the fourth quarter.
But Peterson's run, which capped a seven-play, 59-yard drive, sealed it.
The Rams got a late touchdown pass from Stafford to running back Sony Michel with 24 seconds left to account for the final score.
"We're a resilient group," Tannehill said. "We believe in each other, and we're going to fight and we're going to try and find a way to win. Hat's off to the defense, and we found a way to win. I'm proud of the way our guys came out and battled."
The Titans return to action next Sunday against the Saints at Nissan Stadium.
Titans coach Mike Vrabel appreciates the improvement from his team, and he doesn't want to see them let up.
"Success leads to confidence," Vrabel said. "Going out there and being able to view it, and continue to improve, that's the message. We are better now than what we were at the start of the season, and that's the most important thing in the National Football League is that you find way to continue to prove, and obviously you have to find ways to win.
"Along the way you have to find ways to get better, because if you don't you'll find yourself on the outside looking in. Because there's a lot of teams that are going to continue to improve, and we have to be one of those."
The Tennessee Titans take on the Los Angeles Rams in Week 9 at SoFi Stadium.