All’s well that ends well.
The Tennessee Titans escaped with a 23-20 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers thanks to a goal-line stand that ended with fumble recovered by Jurrell Casey to end the game.
That stand made a winner of Ryan Tannehill in his first career start as a Titan and got Coach Mike Vrabel off the hook for a questionable failed fourth-and-one call at midfield. After Tannehill was stopped for no gain at the Chargers 49 with 2:35 left to play, Philip Rivers wasted no time putting the Chargers in position for the win. The Chargers initially were given a 16-yard touchdown pass to Austin Ekeler but replay ruled he was down inside the one. Later, Melvin Gordon was given a touchdown only to have replay rule him short of the goal. On the next play with 19 seconds left, Wesley Woodyard knocked the ball out and Jurrell Casey recovered, with that too not initially seen by the officials but called through replay.
“It’s either rip the ball out, or they score, or we’re going into overtime,” Woodyard said. “I came off the edge got my hand across the ball and was actually trying to yank him away from the goal-line but I was able to get a light strip off and I saw it fall into Casey’s lap.”
The Titans (3-4) may have saved their season for the moment and found new life offensively with the switch to Tannehill at quarterback. Tannehill was 23 of 29 for 312 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. His ability to open up the passing game pumped much needed life into the Titan’s stale offense.
“The offensive line did a great job. They dominated from the beginning of the game. I had confidence every time I dropped back that I was going to have time to make a throw and it really never changed the whole game,” Tannehill said. Tannehill, who replaced a struggling Marcus Mariota last week in Denver, completed passes to eight different receivers with his 23 completions.
“Everybody was doing their job and we just got rolling. Tannehill got into a rhythm and we just started making play after play,” rookie receiver A.J. Brown, who had six catches for 64 yards, said.
The Titans who were shutout last week by the Broncos struck first when new kicker Cody Parkey made a 45-yard field goal in the first quarter. The Chargers answered with a field goal of their own to make the score 3-3 at the end of the first. The Chargers took a 10-3 lead when Gordon caught a one-yard touchdown from Rivers, but the Titans answered that with a touchdown drive of their own just before the half. Tannehill found Corey Davis from eight yards away for the tying score.
Neither team scored in the third quarter but the fourth quarter provided plenty of excitement.
Tennessee took the lead with 13:11 left to play when Tannehill found Tajae Sharpe for a five-yard touchdown. The point after was no good, leaving the score 16-10.
Los Angeles got a 50-yard field goal from Chase McLaughlin to trim the margin to three points before the Titans put together a 75-yard scoring drive to go up 10 points. Derrick Henry, who finished with 90-yards rushing, scored from 11-yards out to push Tennessee’s lead to 23-13.
Chargers wasted no time scoring just a minute and a half later on a 41 yard TD pass from Rivers to Ekeler.
After Vrabel’s decision to go for it on fourth-and-inches, the Chargers put themselves in position for the win but the defense bailed the Titan’s out.
“Wood (Woodyard) made a huge play at the end, knocked the ball out. So if everything we preach, whatever happened in the previous play or if you gave up a touchdown there is nothing you can possibly do about that. The only thing that matters is the next play, that’s everything we preach and now it’s great to get to be able to show it to them as an example,” Vrabel said.
When asked why not punt the ball rather than go for it, Vrabel said “Did you watch the Colts-Chargers game? The guy on the other side of the ball (Rivers), that’s why.”
The Titans were hit by injuries hard on Sunday, especially on the offensive line. They lost Jack Conklin to a thigh injury in the first quarter and then lost Nate Davis in the first half to a rib injury.
Cornerback Adoree’ Jackson exited with a foot injury while Delanie Walker aggravated the ankle injury he suffered in Denver last week and did not return.