Defense carries Titans past Rams 28-16 for 5th straight win
By GREG BEACHAM
INGLEWOOD, Calif. (AP) Kevin Byard returned Matthew Stafford's second consecutive interception 24 yards for a touchdown, and Tennessee's defense carried the Titans to a 28-16 victory over the Los Angeles Rams in a showdown between conference co-leaders Sunday night.
Jeffery Simmons had three of Tennessee's five sacks of Stafford during a stifling performance against the Rams' prolific passing offense. Stafford crucially threw back-to-back interceptions that the Titans turned into 14 points in 11 seconds of the second quarter, sending them well on their way to their fifth consecutive victory.
"Those guys played fantastic," Titans coach Mike Vrabel said of his defense. "It was fun to watch them play. ... We really think that group is playing with a lot of confidence right now. They would be able to come in here and play the way they did and hold them to field goals, and we played great in red zone."
Ryan Tannehill passed for 143 yards and a touchdown and rushed for another score for the Titans (7-2), who managed just 194 offensive yards in their first game without injured NFL rushing leader Derrick Henry.
Adrian Peterson rushed for just 21 yards, but the veteran running back made a 6-yard TD run with 3:00 left in the first game of his 15th NFL season.
The Titans got a key stop on downs near midfield with 6:39 to play, and Tennessee's defense nearly kept the Rams out of the end zone for just the fourth time in 73 games under Sean McVay - but Sony Michel caught a 3-yard TD pass with 24 seconds left.
The Titans' defense dramatically changed the game in the second quarter. Stafford inexplicably flung a desperate pass into the heart of the defense to avoid taking a sack for a safety, and Long returned his interception to the Rams 2.
Geoff Swaim caught a touchdown pass on the next snap - and right after the kickoff, Stafford's throw to Robert Woods on the sideline was returned by Byard for his first career pick-6.
Stafford passed for 294 yards and threw the 24th pick-6 of his career - most among active quarterbacks - during easily the worst game of his debut season with the Rams (7-2). Los Angeles' four-game winning streak ended in just the fourth meeting in 15 years between two teams with their conferences' top records.
After generating MVP talk for his outstanding eight-game start to the season, Stafford looked shaky and confused against Tennessee's defense in the first half. He barely practiced during the week while managing a stiff back, and he played on after incurring an ankle injury during the game.
Los Angeles, the NFL's least-penalized team, also got flagged 12 times for 115 yards - the most yards in McVay's career.
"We have to play cleaner football," McVay said. "I want to see what we learn from our response. The last time we had a setback, I liked how we responded. ... A lot of things happened tonight that are uncharacteristic of us. I liked the way our guys competed to the end and showed their resilience."
Aaron Donald was whistled for roughing the passer while Tannehill was throwing the ball away on third down with five minutes to play. The call extended a drive that ended in Peterson's 6-yard run for his 119th career rushing TD and 125th total touchdowns, tying him with Walter Payton for 11th-most in NFL history.
"I felt like we knew what to expect," Donald said. "They stuck with their game plan, with running and play-action. Just a different back in there."
Both teams were missing big names for this showdown. Tennessee played its first game of the season without Henry after his foot injury, while Von Miller did not make his debut for the Rams after they acquired him from Denver early this week. Miller is still working back from an ankle injury.
Peterson had been out of the league before he signed with the Titans on Monday after they learned the extent of Henry's injury. Tennessee promptly put him in the starting lineup.
Stafford got rolling to start in the second half, but Los Angeles had a touchdown taken off the board on its opening drive when officials ruled Tyler Higbee's toe had gone out of bounds before his scoring catch on third down. The Rams kicked a field goal instead.
Titans: Taylor Lewan was active, but Bobby Hart started at left tackle. Lewan was "unavailable" except in an emergency, Vrabel said. ... Aaron Brewer also started at right guard in place of Nate Davis.
Rams: Henderson injured his ankle in the second quarter, but kept playing. ... WR Jacob Harris left with an undisclosed injury in the second half.
Titans: Host Saints on Sunday.
Rams: Visit 49ers next Monday night.
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Updated November 8, 2021