Malik Willis Throws for 2 TDs as Titans Wrap Preseason Beating Pats 23-7
Mike Vrabel wants to see his Tennessee Titans start faster, especially now that the preseason is over.
The Titans coach does like how one of his young quarterbacks shook off a rough start.
Malik Willis passed for 211 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Titans to a 23-7 victory Friday night over the New England Patriots in the teams' preseason finale.
“Love the way that he competed," Vrabel said of Willis shaking off a pair of interceptions. "Loved it. And, you know, got to eliminate the mistakes.”
Tennessee QB Ryan Tannehill started and handed off three times in his lone action this preseason before putting on a ballcap for the rest of the night.
Bailey Zappe started at quarterback as New England (1-2) rested many of its starters. The Patriots managed just 79 yards total offense.
“Obviously, we got a chance to look at a lot of guys here tonight,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said.
Tennessee (2-1) had six sacks and forced a turnover. Most of the Titans' starters played the first quarter.
With rookie Will Levis missing a second straight game with an injured left thigh, Willis made his case to back up Tannehill again this season.
The 86th pick in the 2022 draft struggled in the first quarter, going 1 of 5 for 22 yards. He also threw a pass that went behind tight end Josh Whyle and off the rookie's hands to Patriots linebacker Calvin Munson late in the quarter. Vrabel said protection kind of dictated that throw.
Willis flipped a switch in the second, completing all eight of his passes for 115 yards and a 12-yard TD pass to Julius Chestnut just before halftime. That capped a 90-yard drive for a 13-7 halftime lead. He tossed a 26-yard TD pass to undrafted rookie receiver Kearis Jackson early in the fourth.
He actually didn't have a pass hit the ground after the first quarter. Midway through the third, Willis threw to a wide-open Patriots linebacker Joe Giles-Harris for the Titans quarterback's second interception of the game.
Willis also showed more patience, running only eight times for 17 yards. The quarterback said his biggest growth from his rookie season has been not taking weeks and months to correct an issue.
Now Willis said he's able to take “a few moments and understand what’s trying to get put towards me and how can I fix it.”
These teams had been scheduled to practice together Tuesday and Wednesday until Patriots cornerback Isaiah Bolden was carted off the field in Green Bay last weekend. New England alerted the Titans that night that plans had changed, with the Patriots returning home for a couple practices.
The temperature was 92 degrees at kickoff with the temperature feeling around 105. Zappe, who's from Texas, said he was pretty used to the heat. He was 8 of 15 for 57 yards and sacked four times.
“I made a joke when I got off the bus that this is real weather,” Zappe said. “Some of you northerners, I’m sure y’all don’t like it, but I was fine with it.”
Three-time All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, three-time Pro Bowl running back Derrick Henry, two-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons and linemate Teair Tart all warmed up. Then they came out for kickoff without pads and watched from the Tennessee sideline.
Patriots quarterback Mac Jones dressed but did not play. Zappe came back in the third quarter. Rookie Malik Cunningham got in late and was incomplete on both pass attempts. He ran once for 5 yards and played 19 snaps at wide receiver.
WATCH THE KICKERS
Chad Ryland, the Patriots' fourth-round pick out of Maryland, hit the crossbar on a kickoff to show off his strong leg as he pushes veteran Nick Folk for the kicker's job.
Michael Badgley, who signed and practiced with Tennessee for the first time Tuesday, didn't help his case to make the final roster. He made a 44-yard field goal that banked in off the left upright while also making two more from 27 and 33 yards. But Badgley also hooked a 39-yard field goal wide left.
Titans starting right guard Daniel Brunskill went to the locker room with a knee injury. Riley Reiff, who started at right guard for New England, also left with an right leg injury.
Whyle went to the locker room in the fourth quarter with an injured ankle.
Patriots host Philadelphia on Sept. 10 to open the season.
Titans open season Sept. 10 visiting New Orleans.