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.
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.
Malik Willis’ first career NFL turnover. A fumble. 😬 pic.twitter.com/rDJKKPsZtE
— NFL Rookie Watch (@NFLRookieWatxh) September 20, 2022
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.