Titans ride menacing pass rush to thwart Russell Wilson, Broncos

NASHVILLE — Now that it’s officially cold-weather season in Nashville, the Tennessee Titans are back in their element.

Behind a dominant defensive showing and a few timely scores, the Titans outlasted the Denver Broncos in a 17-10 comeback win. The Titans (6-3) trailed 10-0 late in the second quarter but thundered ahead with a persistent pass rush and an offense that took advantage of the few opportunities it needed.

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill returned for the Titans after missing two games with an ankle injury. He threw for 255 yards and two touchdowns with 11 rushing yards. Wide receiver Nick Westbrook-Ikhine was his favorite target, catching five passes for 119 yards and two touchdowns, including a 63-yard score on a third-quarter flea flicker.

Wilson led the Broncos into the red zone with less than a minute remaining. Just as was the case in early-season wins over the Las Vegas Raiders and Washington Commanders, the Titans held on, this time thanks to a third-down sack-fumble forced by Rashad Weaver that marooned the Broncos in 4th-and-13. Following an offsides penalty, Wilson threw an interception to end the game.

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Playing despite the pain

The Titans’ defense was undermanned Sunday, playing without regular starters Jeffery Simmons, Bud Dupree, Kristian Fulton, Amani Hooker and Zach Cunningham and losing linebacker David Long Jr. to injury in the third quarter.

Despite playing without half of its starting unit, the Titans defense still showed out, especially when it came to pressuring Wilson. The Titans only sacked Wilson six times, but accounted for 17 quarterback hits, forcing the veteran QB out of rhythm and preventing the Broncos from setting up plays deep downfield.

This was especially evident when the Broncos’ offense became one-dimension in the final minutes, needing to throw to force overtime. Defensive linemen like Mario Edwards Jr., Rashad Weaver and DeMarcus Walker menaced Wilson all afternoon but bullied him in the final minutes.

Right before the break

For almost two full quarters, the Titans’ offense looked listless. Emphasis on almost.

Through six possessions, the Titans offense had punted six times and only gained two first downs. But after the Broncos kicked a field goal to go up 10-0 with 2:23 left in the first half, Tannehill led the Titans offense out for its seventh possession and finally found a rhythm. Tannehill completed eight passes for 59 yards and scrambled for 11 yards to set Tennessee up for its first score, a 9-yard completion from Tannehill to Westbrook-Ikhine in the back left corner of the end zone to put points on the board before half.

Prior to that drive, the Titans had completed 15 passes for 176 yards in their previous 10 quarters.

The big play

Midway through the second quarter, the Broncos had yet to cross field, let alone threaten to score. But Denver quarterback Russell Wilson broke through the Titans defense with about eight minutes left in the half, connecting with receiver Jalen Virgil for a 66-yard completion for a touchdown. Virgil found a soft spot in the coverage behind defensive back Elijah Molden in the flats but outside of cornerback Terrance Mitchell, who slipped in pursuit giving Virgil a free pass to the end zone.

Subtract the 66-yard gain and the Broncos finish the first half with 141 yards averaging 3.9 yards per play. But one big breakthrough meant the Titans went into the half trailing.

What’s next?

The Titans have a quick turnaround for their next game, a Thursday-night affair at Lambeau Field against the Green Bay Packers in five days. Kickoff is scheduled 8:15 p.m. ET, and the game will be streamed through Amazon Prime.

Contact Nick Suss at nsuss@gannett.com. Follow Nick on Twitter @nicksuss.

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