Jon Robinson’s addition by subtraction worked, for a week at least. Vic Beasley, Johnathan Joseph, and Beau Brinkley were shown the door and the defense and special teams immediately responded with their best performances in a month.
Whether there is a direct correlation between those facts will take more than one week to determine, but this was a positive performance from the units that had been holding this Titans team back over the past couple games.
The win, critically, moves the Titans to 6-2 and restores their AFC South lead to a full game heading into Thursday night’s massive showdown with the Colts. Here are the winners and losers from Titans 24, Bears 17.
Winner: Third-Down Defense
Entering the game, the Titans much maligned third-down defense had allowed opponents to convert at a league worst 61.9% rate and had given up at least ten third-down conversions in three of their last four games. Today, the Bears managed just a 2-of-15 (13.3%) conversion rate.
We should note that the Bears were 31st in the NFL in third-down conversion rate (29.8%) heading into this game, but it’s still big time progress from a Titans team that had felt absolutely helpless to stop opposing offenses in recent weeks.
So what changed? Well, pretty much everything. The pass rush got consistent pressure, sacking Nick Foles twice and forcing another intentional grounding. The coverage was tighter. The tackling was much more secure. Oh, and the Bears sucked.
That last point certainly factors into the overall analysis, but it doesn’t totally wipe away the success that this defense found on Sunday.
Loser: Corey Davis
After one of the best games of his career against the Bengals, Davis had one of the worst against the Bears, getting completely shut out on the stat sheet and dropping a pair of catchable passes (though one involved a very good play by the defense).
This is kind of what Davis has been at the NFL level. He shows flashes of excellent play, but the inconsistency makes him tough to rely on as a top option on offense.
Winner: A.J. Brown
Fortunately, the Titans have this guy and don’t need Davis to be the star week in and week out. Brown turned in a 4-catch, 101-yard performance, including his NFL-best 6th 40-plus-yard touchdown catch since the start of 2019.
Brown now has seven career 100-yard performances in the first 22 games of his NFL career, tied for 5th-most among receivers all time. The players he matched in that category? Isaac Bruce, T.Y. Hilton, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Randy Moss, Andre Rison, and A.J. Green. Pretty good company.
Loser: Ryan Tannehill
To be totally fair, the numbers are far worse than the performance. Tannehill went 10-of-21 for 158 yards and two touchdowns, but those numbers would look better if not for a couple bad drops from his receivers.
However, the offense averaged just 4.1 yards per play and just looked out of sync for much of this game. Yes, the Bears defense is legit, but so is the Colts D and the Titans will need more from their quarterback on Thursday.
Winner: Jeffery Simmons
What else is left to say about Big Jeff? He finished with three tackles, one pass break up, one forced fumble, and a fumble recovery, but it felt like he was everywhere in this game. He’s as dominant an interior force as you’ll find in the NFL right now not named Aaron Donald. An absolute wrecking ball who hustles all over the field.
Loser: Titans Offensive Line
The Bears defensive front is outstanding, but this was still a relatively poor performance from the offensive line in my opinion. Tannehill was sacked three times (not terrible, but a season high) and the running game produced just 3.0 yards per carry.
Playing much of this game without their best remaining offensive lineman, Rodger Saffold, certainly didn’t help things. Jamil Douglas allowed a pressure immediately upon entering the game at left guard (though he did seem to settle down a bit from there).
It seems hard to believe that Saffold — who left the game with a shoulder injury and did not return a week after being out for a few plays with a shoulder issue — will be cleared to go in four days, so the Titans might be relying on Douglas in their biggest game of the year.
The good news? Tennessee completely shut out Khalil Mack.
Winner: Ryan Allen
The Titans signed Allen this week to replace All-Pro punter Brett Kern, who went to IR with a wrist injury, and Allen was outstanding in his first game in Tennessee. He averaged 50.5 yards per punt with a long of 65 and did a great job of flipping field position.
He also did a nice job in his role as holder for Stephen Gostkowski. The Titans up and down kicker was up today, hitting from 40 yards and connecting on all three extra points.
Winner: Matt Overton
Overton may have been making a one week cameo as the Titans long snapper, but it was a successful showing for him. He was busy, snapping for eight punts and four kicks, and all 12 snaps were on the money.
Winner: Jayon Brown
I think you could make an argument for Jayon Brown being the Titans MVP today. He led the team in tackles with 10, had a sack, a forced fumble, and a pass breakup in a stat-stuffing effort.
After a rough start to the season, Brown has really come on the past few weeks and is playing the high level football that Titans fans had come to expect from him.
Winner: Desmond King
What a way to make an impression on your new team. King scooped and scored on a fumble forced by Simmons after joining the team for the first time on Saturday.
As our own John Glennon pointed out, that gives King more touchdowns than practices as a Titan. Beyond the touchdown, King was also solid in coverage, getting beat once on a wheel route when he stumbled a bit coming out of his back pedal. Besides that, the Bears mostly stayed away from him in coverage, a sign that he was doing his job effectively.
Beyond the performance, King just seems thrilled to be in Tennessee. It was no secret that he and the coaching staff in L.A. didn’t see eye to eye, so getting a fresh start seems to have energized the talented slot corner. This game will do nothing to damper that enthusiasm.
Winner: Breon Borders
After getting promoted from the practice squad on Saturday, Borders was immediately thrust into the starting lineup opposite Malcolm Butler in the spot that had previously been occupied by Johnathan Joseph. The former UDFA was physical and tight in coverage throughout the game and was a sure tackler in run support.
Obviously, the Titans will want to get Adoree’ Jackson back on the field as soon as possible, but Borders looked like a clear upgrade over Joseph in this game and provides some hope that this position can at least be serviceable if Jackson continues to miss time.
Winner: Malcolm Butler
Yes, I’m going with all three cornerbacks here. Butler’s stock continues to be on the rise as he produced another two pass breakups, running his team-high in that category to 10 on the season.
Allen Robinson got the best of Butler a couple times, but the Titans corner made life difficult for the Bears top receiver in this game and continues to trend in a very positive direction. When Adoree’ Jackson does return — it’s gotta happen some time soon, right? — the Titans secondary will look pretty strong on paper with a trio of Jackson-Butler-King.
Winner: DaQuan Jones
The Titans absolutely stuffed the Bears rushing attack, holding Chicago under 3 yards per carry and Jones was frequently at the center of that effort. He popped off the screen a few times in this game and turned in a team-best two tackles for loss.
Winner: Teair Tart
Tart is one of the undrafted rookies who made the Titans practice squad out of training camp and he earned a call up to the active roster this week, pushing 2019 UDFA Isaiah Mack out of a spot on the 53. That decision seemed justified today when Tart made some impact plays in his NFL debut. He got 22 snaps (9 more than Larrell Murchison) and was frequently seen in the Bears backfield causing disruption. It was a very impressive debut for the rookie out of FIU.
Winner: Harold Landry
With Jadeveon Clowney sidelined with a meniscus injury, the Titans badly needed Landry’s A-game and they got it. The third year pass rusher picked up a sack, forced an intentional grounding penalty (which really should be recorded as a sack), and hit Foles another three times.
He was frequently beating Bears left tackle Charles Leno and forced a false start as the Chicago tackle seemed bothered by Landry’s speed throughout the game. You’d obviously like to see more than 2.5 sacks from Landry in eight games, but the pressures are there and we’ve seen sacks come in bunches for him. A strong second half of the season wouldn’t surprise me at all.