Marcus Mariotta could never have made some of the throws Ryan Tannehill did Sunday in Nashville.
The strong-armed Tannehill, in his first game as the Titans starting QB, zipped the ball between defenders with bullet-like velocity to carry the team to a 23-20 victory over the Chargers.
It was Tannehill and another newcomer to the lineup, rookie Jeffery Simmons playing his first NFL game, who had perhaps the biggest impact. The 6-foot-4, 305-pound Simmons could best be described as a boulder. He finished with the Titans lone sack and four tackles, two for a loss.
No play was bigger than at the goal line in the closing seconds when Simmons knocked his man backward, forcing the play wide and allowing linebacker Wesley Woodyard to force a fumble the Titans recovered in the endzone.
“He’s a physical presence out there,” said Woodyard when asked to describe the massive Simmons.
Added defensive lineman Jurrell Casey, who recovered the game-sealing fumble, “I told him to let it rip and he did his thing today.”
Simmons logged 21 snaps in his first game since knee surgery in February. The 19th overall pick out of Mississippi State wasn’t added to the active roster until the day before the game.
Yet he was in there when it counted in the final seconds. With the Chargers threatening from the 1-yard line, Simmons did his part.
“I came off the ball and my job is to beat my guy and I feel that’s what I did. I took my guy, and we got the stop,” said Simmons. “It was big for this defense and the team.”
Simmons joins a Titans defense that has yet to surrender more than 20 points this season. The last time the Titans (3-4) made it seven games without an opponent scoring over 20 was in 2000.
In addition, the Titans held the Chargers to just 39 rushing yards.
With Simmons acting like a bulldozer on defense, Tannehill brought a bolt of lightning to the Titans passing game. He completed 23-of-29 passes for 312 yards and two touchdowns, with a 120.1 rating.
Rookie receiver A.J. Brown called him “a general” for his leadership in the huddle. Fellow receiver Corey Davis marveled at how Tannehill squeezed the ball into such tight windows.
Tannehill dazzled from the pocket, and on the run, all game. The Titans first TD was an 8-yard laser to Davis that somehow squeezed between two defenders to cap an 86-yard drive.
In the second half, Tannehill engineered the team’s longest drive of the season, 14 plays, and found Tajae Sharpe in the back of the endzone for a 5-yard score.
In other season highs, the Titans converted 6-of-11 third downs, their highest percentage rate at 54.5 percent. They also piled up 403 yards of total offense, another best.
After the game, Tannehill deflected recognition from himself, instead crediting the offensive line and RB Derrick Henry, who rushed for 90 yards and a TD.
“From the beginning of the game, I had time in the pocket,” said Tannehill. “We had the run game going with the way Derrick was running so I was really proud of the way the guys played.
"I had a ton of confidence every time I dropped back that I was going to have time to make a throw and that never really changed the whole game.”
Coach Mike Vrabel was hardly effusive in his praise for Tannehill, calling him “decisive” and saying in ho-hum fashion, “I think Ryan took advantage of the opportunity. I think everybody probably played better at all positions.”
Tannehill joined the Titans in March via trade. He spent his first seven seasons with the Dolphins.
The Titans stay at home again this weekend with a matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-4). Kickoff is set for noon.