NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Rookie Malik Willis threw the first touchdown of his NFL career and the Tennessee Titans beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 13-3 Saturday night in their exhibition home opener.
The Titans (1-1) want to see if the third-round draft pick out of Liberty can develop quickly enough to back up veteran Ryan Tannehill this season. This was Willis’ second straight start, and he showed more patience by staying in and moving around the pocket. Willis still was sacked three times while playing a series into the third quarter.
Willis also had nearly as many runs as completed passes yet again. He ran five times for 42 yards with a long of 24 yards to set up the first field goal and was 7 of 17 for 80 yards passing with a 75.6 passer rating. He capped Tennessee’s final drive of the first half by finding fellow rookie Chig Okonkwo with a 6-yard pass for the first TD of both their pro careers.
Veteran Ryan Succop, trying to hold off Jose Borregales, sneaked a 52-yard field goal over the crossbar late in the third quarter for the Bucs (0-2).
Tannehill, running back Derrick Henry, center Ben Jones, receiver Robert Woods, All-Pro safety Kevin Byard and Pro Bowl defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons all wore ballcaps instead of helmets. Rookie Nicholas Petit-Frere started at right tackle trying to beat out Dillon Radunz for the job, then moved to the left side after veteran Taylor Lewan left.
Tampa Bay had its own lengthy list of starters missing led by Tom Brady out for a second straight preseason game in his personal break from the Bucs. Julio Jones, who took part in both joint practices against the Titans, watched from the sideline along with fellow receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin.
With so many starters out, the teams failed to convert their first nine third downs combined. The Titans outgained the Bucs 145-95 in total offense with Tennessee scoring 10 points off turnovers by halftime.
With Brady out, Blaine Gabbert started and played the first two series going 3 of 5 passing for 13 yards. Kyle Trask finished the game and threw for 105 yards. But he was intercepted just before halftime for a second straight week.
The Titans have their punt returner in Kyle Philips. The fifth-round pick out of UCLA looked to make a rookie mistake by stepping back into the end zone to field his first punt, then slipped through for a 26-yard return. He went 15 yards on his next opportunity. On his third chance, Philips made the first defender miss on his way to a 35-yard return.
Rookie punter Ryan Stonehouse is pushing three-time Pro Bowler Brett Kern thanks to his impressive hangtime on his punts. The Titans stepped up the competition by having Stonehouse hold on field goal attempts, and the rookie held for the two field goals and one extra point by Bullock. Kern handled the first two punts. Stonehouse also had a 68-yard punt on his first attempt and averaged 47 yards on four punts.
When Stonehouse bobbled a snap in the fourth quarter, the rookie picked up the ball and ran 24 yards for a first down.
Tampa Bay guard Aaron Stinnie, a former Tennessee player, was carted off the field late in the third quarter after hurting his left leg. Titans safety Joshua Kalu hurt a groin muscle earlier in the third and didn’t return.
Bucs: visit Indianapolis on Aug. 27.
Titans: wrap up the preseason hosting Arizona on Aug. 27.
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