NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Rookie Will Levis threw for 238 yards and four touchdowns in his NFL debut, and the Tennessee Titans scored their most points since 2021 in beating the Atlanta Falcons 28-23 on Sunday.
The Titans (3-4) capped an alumni weekend wearing Houston Oilers' throwback uniforms down to an oil derrick logo at midfield with the old nickname in each end zone.
Levis became the seventh rookie quarterback to start this season, the most rookies to start in the first eight weeks since the NFL merger, excluding the 1987 strike season. Six rookie quarterbacks started in that span in both 1971 and 2021.
The Titans quarterback became the third rookie to start in the AFC South alone, joining Anthony Richardson and C.J. Stroud. Levis joined Marcus Mariota (2015) as the only quarterbacks to throw at least four TD passes in their NFL debuts — both for the Titans — since the merger in 1970.
Two-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman Jeffery Simmons had two of Tennessee's six sacks, including a strip-sack of Desmond Ridder that the Titans turned into a touchdown. Harold Landry had two sacks as well.
DeAndre Hopkins finished with 128 yards and three TDs on four catches to match his career high. Nick Westbrook-Ikhine caught Levis' fourth TD pass, a 33-yarder in the fourth. Derrick Henry also ran for 101 yards.
Atlanta (4-4) came in atop the NFC South. The Falcons now have lost two of their past three and dropped to 1-3 on the road.
Ridder was evaluated for a concussion and cleared after throwing for 71 yards in the first half.
The Falcons switched to Taylor Heinicke in the third quarter. He threw for 175 yards driving Atlanta to points on four of his first five possessions. He pulled Atlanta within 28-23 with 3:46 left with an 8-yard TD pass to Scotty Miller.
When the Falcons got the ball back with 2:19 left and no timeouts, they turned it over on downs.
Titans coach Mike Vrabel stuck to his promise in playing second-year quarterback Malik Willis. He came in on the fifth play of Tennessee's opening series and promptly fumbled the snap. Calais Campbell recovered for Atlanta at the Titans 28. Atlanta was held to the first of three field goals by Younghoe Koo.
The Titans stuck with Levis, and the No. 33 pick overall out of Kentucky showed why they traded up for him. He had more TD passes through three quarters than Ryan Tannehill (two), who started the first six games.
Levis' first NFL TD pass was a 47-yarder to the three-time All-Pro wide receiver Hopkins late in the first quarter that put the Titans ahead to stay. After Simmons' strip-sack of Ridder, Levis capped the drive with a 14-yard TD pass to Hopkins.
By catching Levis' first NFL TD pass, Hopkins now has done that for four different quarterbacks tying Marvin Harrison and Joey Galloway for the most such receptions in league history.
Hopkins was wide open for a 61-yard catch, putting the Titans up 21-9 late in the third quarter, becoming the first Titans receiver with three or more TD catches since Kenny Britt on Oct. 24, 2010, against the Eagles.
Atlanta defensive lineman Grady Jarrett hurt a knee early and didn't return. His replacement LaCale London went down early in the third quarter with an injured knee. Fullback Keith Smith did not return with a concussion. Falcons wide receiver Drake London hurt a groin.
The Titans lost right tackle Chris Hubbard to a concussion late in the first half. LB Joe Jones hurt a hamstring and didn't return for the second half.
The Falcons return home to host Minnesota.
The Titans visit Pittsburgh on Thursday night.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL
Teresa M. Walker, The Associated Press