Many considered the Tennessee Titans 27-3 beatdown of the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday at Nissan Stadium to be a statement win of sorts.
A “we have arrived” moment, if you will, after handing former league MVP Patrick Mahomes perhaps the worst game of his NFL career, where he had the worst passer rating (62.3) and QBR (6.0) since taking over as the Chiefs’ full-time starter in 2018 and throwing for the sixth-fewest yards in his career (206).
But as Titans safety Kevin Byard tells it, Sunday’s dominating win over the NFL’s No. 2-ranked offense, and even last Monday’s 34-31 win over the Buffalo Bills didn’t come as a surprise to anyone in the Titans’ building.
“You see week in and week out, I don’t think there is a game that we’re not usually an underdog against, especially when we are talking about top teams,” Byard said. “We feel we can beat any team in this league, and we are not trying to prove -- no disrespect to the media, the world, or anybody around -- that we are the best team.
“We are not trying to prove anybody wrong. We are trying to prove ourselves right because we know who we are in this building…We are not going to get caught up with this win, beating two great teams and now thinking of swelling ourselves a little bit.”
It was the first time a Mahomes-led team was held without a touchdown since he became the full-time starter in 2018. It was also just the third regular season game Mahomes didn’t score a touchdown. He won the first two.
“It was just understood that we had to come into the game and everything and we had to find a way to affect the quarterback, make some disguise coverages, getting pressure on him, forcing him to make some mistakes and not give up the big play,” Byard said. “…We didn’t give up anything big over the top of our heads and that was one of the biggest keys, just being physical.”
Any questions about the legitimacy of Tennessee’s defense have presumably been put to rest. In back-to-back weeks against Mahomes and Josh Allen – two of the top QBs in the NFL – the Titans not only survived, they thrived.
Tennessee pressured Allen 14 times, hit him eight times, hurried him six times, knocked him down five times and sacked him three times while also intercepting him. Mahomes’ numbers against Tennessee were worse.
The Titans pressured the 26-year-old a season-high 30 times and they finished with four sacks and nine QB hits. Tennessee’s defensive line alone combined for 15 pressures, two sacks, two tackles for loss and four QB hits.
“Sometimes they win in straight rush and sometimes we pressure,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. “Sometimes they work gains, and I think those guys are all building some confidence and rolling some guys through in there.”
Mahomes entered Week 7 as the fourth-least pressured QB in the NFL, averaging a little over nine timer per game. Sunday’s game was the most pressures, hits, knockdowns and sacks he’s had all season.
“Whenever you get that type of pass rush, whenever you get that type of pressure on a great quarterback like Patrick Mahomes, it helps the linebackers, and it helps the DBs to make plays like we made today,” linebacker Rashaan Evans said. “We have to give great credit to big guys up front because they had a hell of game.”
As has been the case for much of the year, the trio of Harold Landry, Denico Autry and Jeffery Simmons anchored much of the pass rush’s success. Landry led the team with eight pressures, while Autry had two of the team’s four sacks and six pressures of his own.
Landry’s 7.5 sacks rank second in the league and tie the Titans’ franchise record for the most sacks through the first seven games of the season. He also leads the NFL in pressures (31) and ranks third in hurries and 11th in knockdowns.
“With guys like Jeffery Simmons in the middle and (Autry), it definitely makes things easier on the edge,” Landry said. “It is a huge accomplishment. Mahomes is a great quarterback, and they are a great team. We are definitely going to celebrate this one tonight and then move on.”
“(Autry) is one of a kind, he can rush inside or outside,” linebacker Bud Dupree said. “(Simmons) is a bruiser, he is going to dominate any chance he gets. Harold is going to come with speed, and me and Harold, it is just all about timing.”
After ranking in the bottom three of the league last year, the Titans are now tied for the eighth-most sacks in the NFL (17) just seven games into the season.
Follow Michael Gallagher on Twitter @MGsports_