Rookie QB Will Levis' performance gives Titans hope for quicker rebound

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Rookie quarterback Will Levis turned in an NFL debut for the ages and should start Thursday night when the Tennessee Titans visit the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Levis matched Pro Football Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton (1961) and Marcus Mariota, the Titans' own No. 2 overall pick in 2015, as the only quarterbacks ever to throw four touchdown passes in their first NFL starts in leading Tennessee to a 28-23 win over Atlanta.

The No. 33 pick overall out of Kentucky also showed off his powerful arm by throwing three of the 10 longest TD passes in the league as measured by distance through the air this season. According to Next Gen Stats, those three traveled more than 50 yards and were the most in a game since 2016.

Levis had time to throw behind a line that had allowed 23 sacks.

Coach Mike Vrabel said Monday they need to see how veteran Ryan Tannehill is with his high right ankle sprain.

With the NFL trade deadline Tuesday afternoon, Vrabel also said the Titans (3-4) are open to calls about Tannehill, whose contract is up after this season, and anyone else on the roster.

“We owe it to the team to listen as diligently as possible on anybody that would call regardless of player, person or position, just to make sure that we’re doing right by the football team,” Vrabel said.

WHAT’S WORKING

The offense came in with three combined TD passes — one by Derrick Henry — and scored its most points since the 2021 season finale. Levis not only threw for 238 yards and did not turn the ball over, he posted a 130.5 passer rating. He doubled the number of TD passes Tannehill had in his first six starts.

Three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins scored his first three TD catches this season on four catches with 128 yards receiving. Henry ran for 101 yards and also caught all four passes for 21 yards. That allowed the Titans to hold the ball for nearly 33 minutes.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

Penalties. Under Vrabel, the Titans rank among the NFL's least-penalized teams since 2018. They were flagged six times for 53 yards. One hold by Monty Rice wiped out a 15-yard punt return by Eric Garror in the first quarter. An offensive pass interference penalty on Hopkins, which the receiver disagreed with postgame, erased a fourth-down conversion catch by Treylon Burks that was reversed on review.

STOCK UP

Defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons. The two-time Pro Bowler, who got a big extension this offseason, had his first two-sack game this season, including a strip of Desmond Ridder for Tennessee's lone turnover. Simmons now has 4 1/2 sacks for the season and helped set the tone for a defense that finished with a season-high six sacks.

STOCK DOWN

Malik Willis. The second-year quarterback didn't recover a bad snap by center Aaron Brewer on the Titans' fourth play of their first drive, just after Levis picked up a first down on a quarterback keeper. Fans booed when Willis came back in for his second and last play. He picked up 4 yards on a run just before Levis' second TD pass, a 16-yarder to Hopkins.

INJURIES

RT Chris Hubbard likely will miss Thursday's game after missing the second half with a concussion. Vrabel said a spotter noticed Hubbard rubbing his neck. Clearing the protocol will be tough before kickoff Thursday night.

The Titans played without cornerback Roger McCreary, who hurt a hamstring last Wednesday and didn't practice again. The quick turnaround also might keep him out a second straight game.

Vrabel said they have a chance of getting tight end Josh Whyle out of the concussion protocol that kept him out of Sunday's win.

KEY NUMBER

6-0: The Titans' record under Vrabel coming off a bye.

NEXT STEPS

Try to end an 0-3 start away from home Thursday night to kick off a three-game road swing. A win in Pittsburgh (4-3) would get the Titans back to .500 before trips to Tampa Bay and a big AFC South game Nov. 19 in Jacksonville.

Then Tennessee concludes the season by hosting five of seven at home.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl