What stunning comeback against Dolphins means for Will Levis, Titans

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Published
Dec. 12, 2023 9:27 a.m. ET

The Titans looked like they were imploding. 

In a surprisingly close game against the Dolphins, Tennessee committed back-to-back turnovers in the fourth quarter. It turned what was a tie game into a two-score deficit. It looked like a bad football team playing the kind of bad football we’ve grown accustomed to over the last calendar year. 

But then the final few minutes happened. The improbable happened.

Despite disastrous errors, on the road in primetime against a team tailor-made to exploit their weaknesses, the Titans found a way. 

“It was a heavyweight fight and we were the underdogs. We were the undercard and we came out victorious,” Tennessee linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair said. “That’s what it’s all about.” 

Down 27-13 with 4:34 left, Tennessee scored 15 points in the final 2:40 to upset Miami 28-27 on Monday Night Football for its first road win of the season. The Titans became the first team this century to overcome at least a 14-point deficit in the final three minutes of a game and win in regulation, according to TruMedia. 

Rookie Will Levis reaffirmed the belief that the Titans have a franchise quarterback. Rebounding from two turnovers — a first-quarter pick-six and later a poor pitch to Derrick Henry that set up the Dolphins’ 27-13 lead — the second-round pick skillfully guided Tennessee’s final two touchdown drives. 

On the first one, after the pocket collapsed on a first-and-goal, he rolled to his right and threw what appeared to be a no-look pass across his body to DeAndre Hopkins in the end zone. Levis then hit wide receiver Nick Westbrook-Ikhine on the ensuing two-point conversion to cut Tennessee’s deficit to 27-21. 

On the game-winning drive, capped by a three-yard touchdown run by Henry, Levis connected with Hopkins for 36 yards to put the Titans in plus territory. 

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Time and time again, Levis showed the toughness and moxy that he flashed in his first six starts.  

On a third-and-10 midway through the second quarter, he twisted out of what appeared to be a sure sack for Bradley Chubb and scrambled for five yards — a play that turned into a fresh set of downs after an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Chubb, who appeared frustrated that he couldn’t bring Levis down. The next play, Levis scrambled for another 11 yards to the 1-yard line, lowering his shoulder to the Dolphins defenders closing in. 

The former Kentucky star’s best throw of the night came in the final seconds of the first half, when he threaded a 24-yard pass to Hopkins between three defenders as he got drilled into the ground by Chubb. 

Levis completed 60.5% of his passes for 327 yards and a touchdown with an interception, posting his first 300-yard passing game in the NFL.

“He’s resilient,” Henry said of Levis. “Anybody else would probably get flustered. But being a rookie, stepping up, being a leader, and just having that will … having that drive to still believe and to lead us just speaks a lot about his character. He did a great job today.”

Hopkins played a big part in the QB’s success. He caught seven passes for 124 yards and a touchdown, his third 100-yard receiving game of the season. He caught all three of Levis’ passes that traveled at least 20 air yards for 103 yards. The perennial Pro Bowler has been dependable all year. 

But the Titans defense, playing without superstar defensive tackle Jeffery Simmons (knee), deserves a lot of credit too. The unit has been consistent all season at stopping opponents in the red zone (ranked No. 2 in the league entering Week 14), and that was the case again Monday. The Dolphins, who entered the week first in the NFL in red-zone efficiency, were held to 2-of-5 inside the 20, including 1-for-4 inside the 10. That kept the game close early and made the comeback possible in the end. 

Outside linebacker Harold Landry III — a step slow to start the season as he was working his way back from a torn ACL — had a career-high three sacks, including the game-clinching one on Tua Tagovailoa with 26 seconds left. 

Dolphins superstar wide receiver Tyreek Hill was in and out of the game with an ankle injury, clearly hampering Miami. But that doesn’t take away from how the Titans performed against an offense of the Dolphins’ caliber. 

“I haven’t felt this feeling with this team this year yet,” edge rusher Arden Key said. “The first feeling is I hope everybody can enjoy it, take it in, and remember how this feels. Remember what we did to get this feeling and keep it.”

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None of what happened Monday erases the Titans’ very obvious flaws, many of which were evident against the Dolphins. The playoffs are still a faint dream for 5-8 Tennessee. This season has gone so poorly that losses have actually felt like wins, increasing the team’s chances for a top-five draft pick. 

For at least a day, though, those hopes can be put aside. 

Tennessee is in the winner’s column — and not imploding. 

“This is a big confidence booster for us,” Levis said. “This is not the record we would hope to have at this point in the season, not the position we’d hope to be in in the playoff race and all that. All we can to do is keep pushing. We talked about that all week. 

“We had the opportunity to come and spoil their party and beat a really good football team and build confidence going forward,” he added. “I’m so glad we were able to do that.”

Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for SeattlePI.com for three seasons (2018-20) prior to moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.

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