| The Detroit News
Nashville — On paper, it seemed there would be no way the Detroit Lions were going to be able to slow down Derrick Henry and the high-scoring Tennessee Titans offense. In reality, that’s exactly how it turned out.
The Titans scored touchdowns on their first three possessions and blew open a close game in the fourth quarter en route to a 46-25 victory on Sunday.
Henry, the NFL’s leading rusher, ran for 147 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries. Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill also had a big day in the victory, completing 21 of 27 for 273 yards and three touchdowns, while running for two more scores.
“It was a fun day,” Tannehill said. “Our guys played good. We fed off each other, had good energy the whole day.”
From the coin flip, the Lions had almost no answer for the Titans’ offense.
Taking the opening kickoff, Tennessee methodically moved down the field, driving 75 yards on 12 plays. Henry carried the ball seven times on the opening possession, including the final three snaps, barreling into the end zone for a 3-yard touchdown.
Tannehill was equally efficient, completing all five of his throws for 51 yards.
The Lions managed to keep pace in the early going with a 75-yard touchdown drive of their own. Quarterback Matthew Stafford was sharp on the series, completing seven of his eight throws. On third-and-goal from the 2-yard line, the quarterback threaded a needle to Marvin Jones along the back of the end zone, knotting the game at 7.
That score held for all of one play. Taking advantage of the Lions’ aggressive commitment to bottling up Henry, Tannehill found Corey Davis for a 75-yard touchdown out of play-action.
Deep safety Duron Harmon got turned around trying to cover the former Western Michigan standout, then whiffed on a tackle attempt after the catch, resulting in the long score.
“That was a play that we’ve had in for a few weeks and finally got it called,” Tannehill said. “Obviously, (Davis) did a great job of winning there. He was, I don’t know, 10 yards away when I threw it. That’s one of those you see how much space there is, and you just want to put the ball on him and keep him running and don’t miss.”
After the Lions punted, Henry went back to work with five carries for 46 yards, powering a 93-yard drive. In a signature moment, the hulking back violently stiff-armed Lions cornerback Alex Myres, making his pro debut, drawing a big reaction from the 14,000-plus fans in attendance.
On the next play, again using Henry as bait, Tannehill faked a handoff to the back before running a bootleg in the opposite direction. With plenty of green in front of him, the quarterback scrambled 17 yards, diving across the goal line to put the Titans up 21-7 following the extra point.
“I’d rather him not reach the ball out over the pylon,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. “We talked about that, but he made a heck of a play.”
Detroit looked poised to respond, working down to the Titans’ 1-yard line after a 44-yard pass from Stafford to rookie tight end Hunter Bryant, but D’Andre Swift lost the ball trying to leap over the line. Titans linebacker Will Compton recovered the fumble.
“You know, it’s hard in those moments to tell guys what to do and what not to do,” Lions interim coach Darrell Bevell said. “Their instincts are taking over for them. There are certain things that we coach, but the guy is trying to make a play”
The Lions’ defense finally managed to get a stop when Romeo Okwara hurdled a cut block at the line of scrimmage and sacked Tannehill in the end zone for a safety.
Working with a short field after the free kick, Stafford connected with another downfield throw, finding Jones for a 39-yard gain down to the 2-yard line. From there, Swift was able to punch it in behind the blocks of Oday Aboushi and wide receiver Mohamed Sanu.
Matt Prater missed the extra point, leaving the Lions down, 21-15, before the Titans pushed their advantage to nine before the half with a 38-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski as time expired.
With the margin for error narrow because of the defense’s struggles, the Lions coughed up a second turnover to start the second half. Taking an end-around handoff in Titans territory, tight end T.J. Hockenson lost control of the ball trying to reach for a first down. Initially ruled down on the field, the Titans challenged, getting the call overturned, ending the scoring threat.
“Turnovers are a part of a game, we can’t have them,” Stafford said. “You know, I know Swift has gone up and over the top for touchdowns before, and I know Hock’s reached the ball out to get a first down before. We can’t do it, we can’t have ’em. …Those guys will be the first guys to tell you that.”
After the turnover, Detroit’s defense managed to force their first punt, and despite the offense starting inside their own 10, the Lions clawed back within one score.
A 36-yard pass from Stafford to Quintez Cephus moved the offense across midfield, leading to a 53-yard Prater field goal that made it 24-18 with four minutes remaining in the third quarter.
But after a 25-minute drought without a touchdown, the Titans found paydirt early in the fourth quarter. With completions of 20 and 14 yards, Tannehill steered the team across midfield before Henry burst free for a 33-yard gain down to the 3-yard line.
On first-and-goal, the Titans ran a zone read. With defensive end Austin Bryant collapsing in pursuit of Henry, the quarterback kept the ball and ran it in for his second touchdown of the afternoon.
Henry successfully converted the 2-point try, extending Tennessee’s lead to 14, 32-18.
On the ensuing possession, a bad snap by Joe Dahl — making his first career start at center — resulted in Stafford getting sacked and put the offense behind the chains. Facing fourth-and-4, the Lions tried a fake punt, directly snapping to safety C.J. Moore, who was stopped just short of the marker, giving the ball back to the Titans at the Detroit 34.
Tennessee needed six plays to put the game on ice. Spelling Henry, running back Darrynton Evans hauled in a tipped screen pass and turned it into a 24-yard gain. Then, on third-and-goal, Tannehill found A.J. Brown on a shallow cross for a 2-yard touchdown.
Down 21 with nine minutes remaining, that score also ended Stafford’s day. Playing with an injured rib and thumb, the Lions quarterback finished his day 22-of-32 for 252 yards, the one touchdown and no interceptions.
Backup quarterback Chase Daniel was able to lead the Lions on a quick, six-play touchdown drive, completing all three of his throws for 39 yards before Swift capped the series with a 6-yard scoring run, his second touchdown of the day.
But Detroit’s failure to recover the onside kick only led to more points for the Titans. Again, it was Evans doing much of the work, rushing five times for 24 yards before Tannehill connected with him for a 3-yard touchdown.
With the loss, the Lions fall to 5-9 on the year, while the Titans improved to 10-4, keeping pace with the Indianapolis Colts atop the AFC South.