Ryan Tannehill's tough day helps sink Titans in opening loss to the Saints

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The Tennessee Titans had the New Orleans Saints fooled with a flea flicker that looked flawlessly executed -- right up until Ryan Tannehill released his pass.

Tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo was free down the sideline, at least 10 yards behind any defensive back. But Tannehill overthrew him, turning a probable tying touchdown into nothing.

One series later, Tannehill saw running back Tyjae Spears uncovered for what could have been another long gain. Again, he overthrew him, and Spears couldn't make a circus catch as he leapt, arms outstretched, before crashing over the sideline.

Tannehill also threw three interceptions and the Titans never reached the end zone in their season opener on Sunday, settling for five field goals in a mistake-filled 16-15 loss — their third opening-game defeat in a row.

If Tannehill was miffed about his massive misfires, he hid it.

“I didn’t feel off,” he said. “Obviously, we had a couple of missed opportunities, and those hurt. You’ve got to be able to hit those. I’m not happy about it, but I’ll go back to work and be ready for next week.”

He looked off, however, going 16 of 34 for 198 yards with a career-low 28.8 quarterback rating and an interception total that was his highest in a regular season game since throwing four against Houston on Nov. 11, 2021.

When Okonkwo broke open on an intermediate sideline route in the third quarter, Tannehill threw deep into double coverage for Chris Moore instead. The pass was deflected for an interception by Marcus Maye near the goal line.

Tennessee drafted quarterbacks Malik Willis in the third round in 2022 and Will Levis in the second round this April but stuck with Tannehill as the starter for the fifth consecutive season despite playoff failures that included three interceptions in a 19-16 loss to Cincinnati in 2021.

Titans coach Mike Vrabel refused to single Tannehill out.

“It was the coaching, the quarterback play, the line play, the defensive play, everybody,” he said. “It’s never going to be about one guy. We’ve got to block better, we’ve got to get into routes better, we have to get open quicker and we have to throw better. Everybody’s tied in.”

Even with Tannehill’s struggles, the Titans did not trail until the second half, trading three field goals with the Saints before giving up a 19-yard touchdown pass from Derek Carr to Rashid Shaheed on third down with 1:23 left in the third quarter.

That was exactly the type of play Tannehill could not make. Tennessee converted its first third down in the fourth quarter, finishing 2 of 12 on those situations.

“We can execute better than we did,” Tannehill said. “We moved the ball at times really well but weren’t able to finish in the red zone. We shot ourselves in the foot multiple times with penalties and got behind in the sticks. There were a lot of procedural things we can clean up and give ourselves a better chance.”

He declined to delve into his three interceptions — one in the second quarter and two in the third. The last one was an underthrow that cornerback Paulson Adebo picked off near the sideline at the Titans 33, leading to the Saints’ go-ahead touchdown.

New Orleans also sacked him three times and forced him out of the pocket on several other plays.

“Our guys did a good job of executing the pass rush patterns that we had up front and we did a good job of being tight in coverage and not giving him easy completions,” Saints coach Dennis Allen said. “That’s the key to good pass defense. You have to have both elements involved there.”

Running back Derrick Henry listed a variety of contributing factors in deflecting blame from Tannehill.

“It’s not one guy,” said Henry, who rushed for 63 yards on 15 carries. “Ryan is the one of the leaders on this team, and we’re all going to rally behind him. We’ll be better next week.”

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