Gridiron Grades: Titans pull off exciting comeback win in Baltimore

Gridiron Grades with Justin Melo is a recurring piece that will assign a letter grade to each position group following every Titans game.

It wasn’t always pretty, but it sure was exciting. The Tennessee Titans claimed a thrilling come-from-behind victory in overtime over the Baltimore Ravens to improve to 7-3 on the year.

The rivalry between these two franchises appears to be back on. The Titans gathered on the Ravens’ logo before kickoff. The gesture ensued quite the pre-game shouting match between players and coaches.

The Titans took a quick lead after putting together a 79-yard scoring drive that took just a little over five minutes. The offense stalled after that, and the Ravens took a 21-10 lead early in the third quarter.

The Titans would spend the rest of the game battling back. A pair of field goals cut the lead down to 21-16 before finally scoring the go-ahead touchdown with just over two minutes left. A Ravens field goal sent it to overtime, but a big defensive stand and legendary Derrick Henry moment won the game in overtime.

The win puts the Titans back in a playoff spot. They’ll have a chance to retake the division lead in Indianapolis on Sunday.

Shall we?

Quarterback: B

This grade was going to be a lot worse than this until Ryan Tannehill put in a big performance in the late stages of the game. The passing offense struggled early. While nursing a 7-3 lead, interior pressure forced an uncharacteristically bad decision by Tannehill. With the blitz coming right up the middle from Patrick Queen, Tannehill panicked and fired a pass that was easily intercepted. It was a bad rep for Jeremy McNichols in pass pro, but Tannehill can’t throw that ball. It set up the Ravens inside the 25, but luckily only led to a field goal.

Tannehill’s struggles didn’t end there. He later missed A.J. Brown on a third-and-seven. He had him, but the pressure forced him to let it go a little sooner than he would have liked to and the throw sailed high. On the next possession, he missed Corey Davis on second-and-seven for what would have been a huge gain. He followed that up with another poor throw into the dirt on third down. The Titans ran and converted a fake punt on the ensuing play.

Things started to change in the third quarter following a big first-down conversion to Brown. The Titans were down 21-10 at the time, and the turnaround came at the necessary moment. Tannehill’s throw to Brown was followed by a 50-yard completion to Davis. It started to feel like they had a chance.

I’ve been critical of Tannehill’s play as of late, and he wasn’t perfect Sunday either. But when the Titans needed him most, he hung tough in the pocket despite a struggling (and banged up) O-line and made excellent decision after excellent decision. He was cerebral in the crucial moments. Mike Vrabel had this to say about his quarterback:

“He stands in there and delivers the football and doesn’t flinch. I love that he’s our quarterback, and I love that I get to go to work with him every day.”

Mike Vrabel in his post-game press conference

It’s well deserved praise after he led his fifth comeback victory just 10 games into the season. Tannehill was excellent down the stretch. He made big plays with his arm and his legs on the Titans’ 10-play, 90-yard drive that put the team up 24-21 late. He then lead a six-play, 73-yard game-winning drive in overtime.

Tannehill completed 22 of 31 attempts for 259 passing yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He added 35 yards on the ground. It didn’t always look good, but it was Tannehill’s best performance since Week 6. He’ll try to carry that momentum into Indianapolis this weekend.

Running backs: A

What can I say about Henry? He’s the best player on this team and the face of the franchise. I can’t imagine any “expert” still holding the opinion that running backs don’t matter. Tennessee’s running back matters. He matters a lot.

Henry was the team’s best player in last week’s loss, and he showed up in a major way here.

It wasn’t easy. Henry found little room to operate early. He was running behind a struggling offensive line that included multiple reserve players. The Ravens clearly sold out to stop the run for the majority of this game. It worked, or was working. But as we’ve seen countless times in the past, Henry is a second-half player. The Titans were in a position that allowed them to stick with the ground game. As it has so many times before, it started to pay off in the fourth quarter. Those two- or three-yard runs started to go for five or more. Henry’s second-half performance included a stretch where he gained 84 yards on 13 carries.

The Titans don’t send this game to overtime without Henry’s efficient fourth-quarter running. And as overtime arrived, his brightest moment was yet to come:

Just incredible. The body language from Ravens defensive end Derek Wolfe says it all. Henry didn’t appear to have any chance to score there, but an amazing cutback changed the possibilities. It was Henry’s second walk-off touchdown this season.

It was a special moment for a player that routinely turns in special performances.

Jeremy McNichols and D’Onta Foreman were hardly seen in this one. Foreman carried the ball just once and McNichols caught a single pass. McNichols continues to have a role on third down thanks to his ability in pass protection (although he missed the one noted earlier).

This offense needs to continue riding Henry down the stretch here. D-Henber is right around the corner.

Wide receivers: A

This grade may seem generous — I don’t give a lot of “A”s — but the studs showed up when it counted. It didn’t start well, though. Brown has been suffering from a case of the dropsies as of late. He entered this game with four drops in his last three games. He had at least one more drop in this one. It came on third down, but the offense was bailed out by a roughing the passer call. Brown also dropped a catchable deep ball on the first play of the game, but the Ravens were called for pass interference. The “drop” didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, but you would have liked to see Brown catch it for his confidence (if nothing else).

Brown didn’t seem to be shaken by yet another slow start. With the Titans trailing by five with under four minutes to go, he did this:

Brown routinely shows off why he’s one of the toughest assignments in all of football. His ability to catch the ball and break multiple tackles is special. You better “want to” tackle Brown when you approach him, or you risk getting embarrassed.

Oh, and he wasn’t done there:

Jaw-dropping stuff. Next Gen Stats gave Brown’s catch just an 11.1 percent chance at resulting in a touchdown, and noted that Brown’s 373 yards after the catch over expectation since 2019 ranks No. 1 in the NFL. He’s now broken 14 tackles this season according to PFF, including an astounding seven in this game alone. He leads his position in that category.

Brown finished the game with a modest 62 yards on four catches, but he showed up in a major way during what was at the time, the most important drive of the game.

As for the Titans’ No. 2 receiver, Davis was a bit of an unsung hero in this one. “Unsung Hero” could be the perfect title to capture Davis’ career in Tennessee. He won’t make the highlight reels. No, those will be filled up by Henry and Brown, but Davis turned in a key performance himself. Davis continues to put up the best numbers of his career. He finished the game with 113 yards on five catches. That’s good for 22.6 yards per catch. He was a big reason why the offense flipped this game on its head.

Both Brown and Davis did some excellent work after the catch. You’d be hard pressed to find a better one-two punch at the position when it comes to breaking tackles and picking up yards after contact.

Cameron Batson was involved in the game plan. The Titans were faced with a third-and-11 on their first third down of the game. The Ravens sent the house, but Arthur Smith was ready for them. Tannehill hit a little dump off to Batson who did the rest. The third-year receiver finished with 25 total yards. Defenses have to account for his speed when he’s on the field.

Nick Westbrook-Ikhine caught a pass on a fake punt. Kalif Raymond wasn’t targeted at all.

Tight ends: C-plus

It wasn’t flashy, but this group was efficient. Jonnu Smith caught four passes for just 20 yards. He found the end zone for the game’s opening score:

Smith hasn’t been the world beater lately that he was during the early portion of the season, but he has 8 touchdowns on the year. He’s had more down moments than bright spots in recent weeks, but he remains an important part of this offense, both as a pass catcher and as a blocker.

Anthony Firkser played a solid game. He caught four passes for 33 yards. He’s a reliable chain-mover that’s a tough cover for safeties and linebackers alike. Geoff Swaim continues to do a decent job filling in for MyCole Pruitt as a run blocker. He also caught a nine-yard pass.

Offensive line: C

This unit had their struggles in pass protection. I thought they started the game well by playing tough, physical football, but it didn’t last long. Tannehill was sacked twice and was hit far too often for anyone’s liking.

Run blocking was a mixed bag, but got better in the second half. The 173-yard rushing output would suggest it was excellent, but the truth is that it was inconsistent.

Ty Sambrailo certainly played his worst game in a Titans uniform. I thought he was pretty bad the last time out against the Colts, but he was even worse in this one. He was routinely abused by Yannick Ngakoue in the first half. And by routinely, I mean it felt like Ngakoue was beating him like a drum on a snap-by-snap basis. I would expect a player of Ngakoue’s caliber to get the better of Sambrailo more often than not, but it really felt like he was getting the better of him on every play at one point. It clearly messed with Tannehill’s confidence. He didn’t trust the protection. It was no coincidence that many of Tannehill’s first half misfires occurred on plays where the pressure was almost immediate off the left side. The coaching staff made some good second-half adjustments, mainly in the form of tight end and running back chips.

Sambrailo left the game injured in the second half and was replaced by David Quessenberry. It’s not a surprise, but it’s another telling sign of where this coaching staff is at with Isaiah Wilson right now. Their first-round pick was active for the first time in his career, but the Titans don’t appear to have any intention of playing him anytime soon. The fact that Quessenberry, a guard by trade, replaced an injured Sambrailo at tackle represents a new low for Wilson. Unfortunately, Sambrailo apparently suffered a season-ending injury.

Quessenberry is the favorite to take over on a permanent basis. And honestly, it was a small sample size, but he played well:

Who would back him up? Would it be Wilson or someone like Daniel Munyer or Paul Adams? That would be big yikes. They are hosting veteran free agent Marshall Newhouse on a tryout this week. He’ll likely be signed.

Aaron Brewer got the surprise start at left guard in place of the injured Rodger Saffold. Brewer is an un-drafted free agent out of Texas Tech. He’s listed as a center on the Titans roster. Jamil Douglas had previously replaced Saffold multiple times this season. Starting Brewer proved to be an excellent decision by this coaching staff. They know what they have in Douglas, and that’s inconsistent play. Brewer was quite impressive in his first career start. I thought he played physical and constantly looked for more work. Brewer is an impressive athlete that’s a bit undersized. Some of that popped up throughout the game, but I thought he played very well all things considered. You can never have too many good offensive linemen, and Brewer has proven to be a player worth rostering.

Speaking of Douglas, he had an “oh boy” moment. He entered the game after Ben Jones got poked in the eye. The Titans decided to line Henry up in the shotgun and run the wildcat near the goal line on Douglas’ first play of the game. He air-mailed the snap and killed any chances the Titans had of scoring a touchdown on the drive. It was a terrible snap, but I thought the play call was a curious one given the injury to Jones.

On Jones, his toughness deserves a ton of praise. He was either limited or a non-participant all week in practice. Whispers floated around social media that he was healthy enough to be active, but wouldn’t start. Jones wound up starting and playing well. Offensive linemen are used to seeing their contributions fly under the radar. Jones is a rock for this team.

Nate Davis and Dennis Kelly continue to quietly play good football on the right side of the line. Henry’s game winner was beautifully blocked by all, but Davis especially stood out:

A rematch with the Colts and their front seven will prove to be another huge challenge in Week 12.

Defensive line: C-plus

This group didn’t do much to stand out. They struggled with rookie running back J.K. Dobbins at times. Dobbins rushed for 70 yards on just 15 carries. It felt like Dobbins consistently picked up chunks of yardage. The Ravens spent plenty of time playing with a lead. It’s a wonder why Dobbins didn’t get more than 15 carries. That feels like a mistake on their part.

On the flip side, this group did a pretty good job keeping Lamar Jackson in check. The former MVP was held to just 51 yards on 13 carries. It was a collective effort, but the defensive line played a big role. It takes everyone to keep a dynamic athlete like Jackson from burning you with his legs.

DaQuan Jones, Jeffery Simmons, Jack Crawford and Teair Tart continue to play some good football. Matt Dickerson chipped in with eight snaps.

Inside linebackers: B-plus

This position group played a damn good football game. Rashaan Evans made a great tackle on the first quarterback run of the game. It was a clear sign of intent. The Titans defense was fired up for this one. I thought Evans played his best game of the season. He got a few reps as a pass rusher as well. He had a great rush up the middle on a third-down play. It would be wonderful if he can maintain this level of play going forward. The Titans are going to need him.

Jayon Brown was also playing well. He made an excellent tackle on Jackson on a second-and-goal. The Ravens failed to get in the end zone on that drive and Brown was a big reason why. It’s a shame that his season is over. It ended on a dirty play by Ravens offensive linemen Ben Powers. He was called for clipping, and Brown dislocated and fractured his elbow on the play. It’s a huge loss.

Brown’s play in 2020 was very much up and down, but his absence will be felt. He communicates with the coaches and calls the defensive plays. Coming into this game, he had played a whopping 97% of the team’s defensive snaps. Brown is an unrestricted free agent this summer, and you can’t help but wonder if he’s played his last snap in a Titans uniform. It’s a sad thought.

He was replaced by fan favorite Will Compton. Compton is nowhere near the same type of player that Brown is from a stylistic standpoint, but he did a great job in relief. He played 33 snaps and a helluva football game. He stood out on several plays:

How the Titans choose to replace Brown going forward remains to be seen. I would bet on Compton playing a lot of football, though. David Long Jr. should also play a role. He’s currently on the COVID/reserve list, but should be back on the active roster within a few days according to Vrabel. Long is a much better athlete than Compton is. I would personally like to see them split snaps going forward.

Nick Dzunbar and Daren Bates played one snap each. As usual, they made their presence felt on special teams.

Outside linebackers: C

The edge rushers had a few key moments. Derick Roberson continues to get a huge opportunity with Jadeveon Clowney on IR. Roberson is going to play a lot of football. He played 52 snaps here, which was good for 80% of the team’s defensive plays. He had a great moment in the first half when an excellent third-down pass rushing rep helped hold the Ravens to just three points. It was his signature speed chop move that flushed Jackson out of the pocket and into the arms of two defenders. This group will be much better off down the stretch if Roberson can give them quality snaps.

Harold Landry showed up in a major way in a crucial moment. His overtime sack was the reason the offense got the ball with a chance to go win it:

Landry also played well in the run game. Tuzar Skipper was the third outside linebacker but played just one snap. This group has a huge challenge on Sunday against the Colts. They did little of note against that O-line two weeks ago. They’ll need to be better in the rematch if the Titans hope to get revenge.

Cornerbacks: B-plus

This is more like it. Jackson was held under 200 passing yards. The Ravens’ leading receiver was tight end Mark Andrews. The corpse of Dez Bryant lead their actual receivers in yards with a measly 28.

Malcolm Butler continues to play excellent football. He was often seen covering Bryant. He gave him some room to operate, but routinely made wrap-up tackles after short gains. Butler is this team’s best cornerback. He played 64 of 65 snaps. He’s been incredibly consistent this season.

Desmond King had his ups and downs. He was called for a silly facemask penalty in the dying minutes of the first quarter. It was especially silly because it happened so far away from the action and gave the Ravens an easy 15. It simply can’t happen. In the third quarter, King took what may have been the most obvious holding call I’ve ever seen in the secondary. He rebounded nicely and made a massive play with the game on the line. On second down with just 28 seconds left, he recorded a beautiful pass breakup. It helped hold the Ravens to three points and forced overtime. King continues to battle. He was an excellent acquisition for this team.

Breon Borders has been an absolute stud since being promoted from the practice squad prior to the Bears game. He continues to play tough and tight coverage. He’s also a secure tackler in the run game. He was on the field for every defensive snap but one. I can’t say enough good things about Borders right now. He’s been a godsend for this team, especially when you factor in the injuries to Adoree Jackson, Kristian Fulton, Tye Smith and now Kareem Orr. He’s earned the right to continue playing a ton of football going forward regardless of who’s healthy.

Safeties: C

Kevin Byard had a touchdown saving PBU in the first quarter. He recovered well after biting on a fake. Byard played a pretty good football game. Hopefully he can carry this momentum forward.

Amani Hooker got the start in place of the injured Kenny Vaccaro and played a great game. He had a few negative moments, but was mostly stellar. His first bright moment was an end zone PBU on Marquise Brown. He later recorded this interception when the Titans needed a turnover in the biggest way possible:

Ravens tight end Andrews did get behind Hooker for a big touchdown. Hooker was terrific outside of that. He played all but one snap. We’ve been saying it for weeks now. The Titans have to get him on the field more, even when Vaccaro is healthy. He’s a starting quality player.

Joshua Kalu played 18 snaps. I’m not sure what he was doing in coverage on a third-and-13 that wound up being converted. He’s best utilized on special teams.

Special teams: A-minus

Watching this unit continues to be like riding a rollercoaster. There’s ups and downs. Thankfully, this was a good week.

The controversial decision to roll with Trevor Daniel after his disaster in Week 10 didn’t backfire. His first punt went for just 41 yards, but his second and final punt went for an impressive 52. Punting just two times is generally a good thing. They’ll likely continue to stick by Daniel until Brett Kern is ready to return. Hopefully it’s sooner rather than later.

Stephen Gostkowski went 3 for 3 on field goal attempts. His longest was just 40 yards, but that’s the distance he’s struggled from this year. It was nice to see him have a perfect day.

They also ran a fake punt that was well executed. Backup quarterback Logan Woodside received the snap and threw his first NFL pass to Westbrook-Ikhine. It wasn’t pretty or convincing, but it was converted. It lead to a field goal before half.

The end result was a vital one for a Titans team that had lost three of its last four games after a 5-0 start. Next week’s rematch with the Colts is massive.

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