NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP)Ryan Tannehill debuted as the Tennessee Titans’ starting quarterback in October 2019 with a b ig win over the Los Angeles Chargers in Music City.
The veteran desperately needs a repeat performance Sunday against the same team in the Titans’ home opener.
Tannehill posted his worst passer rating in Tennessee’s 16-15 loss in New Orleans, which also marked just the third game of his career and first since his rookie season with three interceptions and no touchdown passes. The 35-year-old quarterback in the final year of his deal watched the tape five times.
“Every area where it looked like I could be better, then that’s probably it,” Tannehill said.
If he needs any extra motivation, the Chargers ended his 2022 season last December in Los Angeles. Tannehill came back and finished the 17-14 loss. But he had surgery after his second sprained ankle, hoping to be back for a playoff berth that disappeared in a seven-game skid to end the season.
“The bright spot is I feel like it’s got to be better from here right?” Tannehill said.
Titans coach Mike Vrabel has made clear that Tannehill has to be better. The veteran handed off only three times on one series in the preseason finale.Vrabel said Tannehill has played well when they protect him.
“I’m confident that he’ll hit the ones that we’re supposed to hit and eliminate the mistakes and not feeling like we have to force the ball,” Vrabel said.
The Chargers (0-1) have their own motivation. They haven’t won in their past two trips to Nashville and are coming off a 36-34 loss to Miami where they gave up a league-high 466 yards passing.
“We’re not panicking, no one’s putting their head down,” Chargers safety Derwin James Jr. said.
Chargers coach Brandon Staley remembers Tannehill finishing last season’s game with that injured ankle and knows the veteran is 38-23 with Tennessee.
“He has seen it all,” Staley said. “We have a lot of respect for his game.”
The Titans haven’t won a game since Nov. 17 under the lights in Green Bay. Now their skid has reached eight straight losses. In Vrabel’s first five seasons, Tennessee has opened 0-2 only once – last season. The Titans rebounded by winning seven of the next eight.
Five of those losses, including last week, have been by one score for a team that remains the NFL’s best in games decided by three points or fewer since Vrabel took over in 2018 with a 16-10 record. The Chargers are second (15-15).
“We want to win,” Titans three-time Pro Bowl running back Derrick Henry said.
NEW WEEK, NEW CONCERN
The Chargers allowed 11 running backs to have 100-yard games last season. One of them was Henry, the eighth man to run for at least 2,000 yards in a season.
Henry had 104 yards on 21 carries along with 59 receiving yards. Henry’s 163 scrimmage yards in the Week 14 game was his second-highest total of the season. Defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley has stressed limiting outside runs along with more disciplined tackling with Henry providing a stern test.
“Physics, it depends on who you are as a player,” James said of stopping Henry. “You’ve got to swarm – everybody has to get to the ball. You have to have 11 people to the ball.”
SPREADING IT AROUND
Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert completed passes to eight different players in the opener. Keenan Allen lined up in a variety of spots and had six catches, including a 35-yard grab in the first half.
Herbert has 29 straight games with at least 20 completions, the third-longest streak in league history. He credits having so many playmakers with taking the pressure away.
“Having a run game and having guys to throw the ball to on the outside – Keenan, Mike (Williams), (Quentin) Q (Johnston) and Josh (Palmer) – they’ve done such an incredible job. My job is just to get them the ball in space and let them do the cool things,” Herbert said.
STRENGTH VS STRENGTH
The Chargers ran for a league-high 234 yards against Miami led by Austin Ekeler with 117 yards and a TD. Ekeler is questionable with an ankle injury. But Joshua Kelley had a career-high with 91 yards last week, the first time since 2008 Chargers had a pair of backs with at least 90 yards.
The bigger issue is Tennessee had the NFL’s stingiest defense against the run in 2022. The Titans started off this season holding the Saints to 69 yards rushing.
“We take pride in stopping the run here,” two-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons said of the defense. “You know our mindset. Ain’t nobody run the ball on us.”
AP Sports Writer Joe Reedy contributed to this report.