The Titans aren’t accumulating many style points in 2020, but they are collecting Ws. For a third straight week, a Ryan Tannehill drive took Tennessee into field goal range, Stephen Gostkowski converted, and the defense made it stick with a stop.
Obviously, there are some real concerns that remain despite the spotless record. The Titans defense has turned in two straight weeks of poor performances, giving up 464 total yards, including a 181-yard career best effort for Dalvin Cook on the ground. The offense uncharacteristically stalled in the red zone in the first half, and frankly, the comeback falls short if Holton Hill doesn’t drop an interception on the Titans final drive.
This win certainly feels more fortunate than the previous two, but credit the Titans for fighting back from a 12-point second half deficit to pull this one out.
We talked all week about this being a “backs against the wall” game for Minnesota and that’s exactly the kind of effort we saw from the Vikings. But in the end, it was the Titans who made the plays when it mattered the most.
Let’s get into the winners and losers from Titans 31, Vikings 30.
Winner: Stephen Gostkowski
Let’s start with the star of the game: kicker Stephen Gostkowksi of course. After the disastrous Week 1 showing, the 36-year old former Patriot was under a lot of heat, but a solid bounceback against Jacksonville led to an all-time performance in Minnesota. Gostkowski connected from 39, 31, 30, 51, 54, and 55 in addition to hitting his lone extra point attempt.
It was one of the best kicking performances in Titans franchise history and it should help fans breathe easier when #3 comes jogging onto the field moving forward. Of course, the Titans will hope to use him less in the future.
Loser: Vic Beasley
Beasley made his long awaited Titans debut, but you’d be hard-pressed to have noticed. The free agent addition didn’t record a single stat and certainly never made his presence felt as a pass rusher. You’d expect to see him play better as he gets more reps in this defense, but this was not an impressive start.
Winner: Kalif Raymond
Raymond had shown up on the wrong side of this list in each of the last two weeks, but he broke out of his early season slump in a big way today, catching all three of his targets for 118 yards. His longest catch was a 61-yard bomb that looked like the exact mirrored image of his touchdown catch in Baltimore last season.
Raymond was a huge plus in this game.
Loser: Malcolm Butler
Butler wasn’t all bad in this game. He did have a pair of really nice pass breakups in the end zone to help hold the Vikings to a field goal towards the first half. But… for a second straight week, Butler was targeted early and often. Considering the fact that the Titans two other corners were rookie Kristian Fulton and 36-year old Johnathan Joseph, that doesn’t say good things about Butler.
Winner: Jeffery Simmons
MY. GOD. What a monster showing from Big Jeff Simmons in this game. Granted, we knew the Vikings interior offensive line was suspect before the game, but Simmons was absolutely dominant, particularly on the final Vikings drive when the Titans needed him most (despite an incredibly weak roughing the passer call).
Simmons looked like an absolute superstar. A one-man wrecking crew. I can’t wait to watch him again from the All-22 angles.
Meh: Ryan Tannehill
I generally try to avoid the “meh” tag in this piece because it’s not “winners and losers and meh”, but that’s how I felt about Tannehill in this one. He was clearly not as sharp as he was last week, but it wasn’t all bad from Tannehill either.
He did throw for 321 yards at an 8.7 yards per attempt clip and showed outstanding accuracy on the deep balls to Raymond, but he also threw his first interception of 2020, an underthrown ball at the edge of the red zone, and nearly threw another on the final drive.
The offense still moved the ball well overall and ended up with 31 points, going north of 30 for the 6th time in their last nine regular season games. However, it’s still fair to say Tannehill didn’t have his A-game today.
Winner: Kristian Fulton
Fulton avoided getting burnt by former LSU teammate Justin Jefferson and recorded his first NFL sack in a huge spot. The Titans second round pick has been a rare bright spot on defense over the first three weeks.
Loser: Rashaan Evans
Yes, he managed to scoop up a fumble, but that does not make this a good game for Evans.
The Titans run defense seems hopelessly broken right now. A week after James Robinson set a career high — in his second career game, but still — the Titans allowed Dalvin Cook to do the same. Evans is a big part of that and he simply isn’t showing up often enough in the middle of the defense. He’s always been a liability in coverage, so if he’s not thumping running backs near the line of scrimmage, what exactly is Evans doing for you?
Winner: Derrick Henry
The Titans running game has been a little slow to really get cooking in 2020, but it’s gotten better with each week and this was no exception. Henry picked up 118 yards on 26 carries with 2 touchdowns in this one and looked more like his usual dominant self.
Through three games, Henry is on pace for over 1,700 yards rushing. That’s a little misleading due to the 82 carries it’s taken him to compile those yards, but the 2019 rushing champ is certainly looking like he’s going to be in the hunt to defend his crown.
Loser: Arthur Smith
Smith has been a revelation as Titans offensive coordinator over the past two years, but this was not one of his better efforts. The red zone offense wasn’t clicking and there were some head scratching series, including the three straight post-two minute warning pass calls when Derrick Henry had been running well and the Titans had a chance to control the clock. The extra time left after Gostkowski’s field goal didn’t come back to haunt Smith, but it certainly could have.
Tennessee has also been a little too predictable with first down runs early in the season. Through two weeks, they led the league with 70% of all first down calls being runs and Week 3 didn’t seem to change that tendency.
We also didn’t see a ton of creativity with his usage rookie running back Darrynton Evans in his debut. He had three carries for 9 yards, but didn’t factor into the passing game at all.
The Titans didn’t do enough to take advantage of an extremely inexperienced Vikings cornerback group either.
Mixed Bags: Johnathan Joseph and Jadeveon Clowney
It seems appropriate to place these two together as they were both big figures on one of the game’s biggest plays. Joseph’s would-be pick-six was called back due to an illegal block during the return by Clowney. Yes, it was a soft penalty, but Joseph didn’t need Clowney’s block to score.
It was an unnecessary play that cost the Titans 7 points and could have changed the entire tenor of the second half.
However, it wasn’t all bad from Clowney. He was a frequent unwanted guest in the Vikings backfield throughout the game and helped pressure Kirk Cousins on the final drive.
Joseph created two turnovers, the interception shown above and a great play where he submarined a block, forcing a Cook fumble that Evans scooped up.
However, Joseph also got burned by Jefferson for a long touchdown later in the game and had a couple missed tackles on the edge in run support. It was an up and down showing.