Rookie Titans QB Malik Willis sees his first NFL action in tough spot thanks to Bills blowout

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Ryan Tannehill threw a pick-six, and Mike Vrabel had seen enough.

The Tennessee Titans head coach waved the white flag and pulled his starting quarterback in the third quarter of Monday's 41-7 trouncing at the hands of the Buffalo Bills. Matt Milano's interception of Tannehill and ensuing 43-yard touchdown return was the final straw.

While the game was a debacle for the Titans, it wasn't a complete washout. Tannehill's trip to the bench meant an unexpected early look at live NFL action for Malik Willis, Tennessee's electric third-round rookie quarterback.

Unfortunately for Willis, his night didn't go much better.

Willis helmed three Titans drives before the fourth-quarter clock mercifully hit 0:00. They resulted in two punts and a lost fumble by Willis.

Sep 19, 2022; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Tennessee Titans quarterback Malik Willis (7) scrambles out of the pocket during the third quarter at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: George Walker IV -USA TODAY Sports
Sep 19, 2022; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Tennessee Titans quarterback Malik Willis (7) scrambles out of the pocket during the third quarter at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: George Walker IV -USA TODAY Sports

Willis took over on first-and-10 at the Titans 25 following a touchback. His first pass was an ill-advised look that was nearly intercepted again by Milano, who had tight coverage on intended target Austin Hooper over the middle. Instead, Milano was credited with a pass defensed on a ball that he knocked to the turf.

Willis then flashed the athleticism that made him a preseason sensation, escaping pressure from a second-down pass rush for an eight-yard gain on a scramble. The Titans then picked up a first down on a Hassan Haskins run, and Willis secured his first NFL completion with a six-yard pass to Robert Woods in tight coverage over the middle on second-and-7. He ran for a one-yard loss on the next play, and the Titans punted on fourth down.

The Titans called four runs for Haskins to start their next possession before Willis picked up a first down on a five-yard scramble on third-and-4. His next pass was an incompletion thrown behind intended receiver Josh Gordon on a crossing route. On the ensuing third-and-1, Willis appeared to secure a big gain on an option run. But he dropped the ball when he ran into his lead blocker, and the Bills recovered the fumble.

It was the fourth forced turnover of the night for a ballhawking Bills defense. Tennessee's next drive ended with a three-and-out, and Willis' night was over.

There will surely be better nights ahead for the former Liberty quarterback, who will take the field for his next NFL action without first-game jitters — and likely under better game circumstances.

For the Titans, the've got some work to do as they face the prospect of an 0-3 start against an equally desperate 0-2 Las Vegas Raiders team next week.