NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The butterflies Tennessee Titans rookie quarterback Will Levis felt over the past two weeks disappeared Sunday.
It showed as Levis threw four touchdown passes for a performance that matched what only two other quarterbacks did in their NFL debuts. Levis celebrated the last TD on his back with his arms in the air.
Levis helped the Titans score their most points since 2021 in beating the Atlanta Falcons 28-23.
“I’ve been dreaming of this moment as a kid my entire life," said Levis, who finished with 238 yards passing. "Even to just touch the field in an NFL game, let alone get a win, is incredible.”
The Titans (3-4) snapped a two-game skid in their lone stop at home in a seven-week span ahead of a three-game road swing.
“This was a big win for us, important win at this point in the season,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said with a trip to Pittsburgh up Thursday night.
This win came on alumni weekend as the Titans wore Houston Oilers' throwback uniforms down to an oil derrick logo at midfield with the old nickname in each end zone.
Levis was cheered when introduced as the starter. He became the seventh rookie quarterback to start this season, the most 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 the Colts' Anthony Richardson and the Texans' C.J. Stroud. Then Levis joined Marcus Mariota in 2015 with the Titans and Pro Football Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton as the only quarterbacks ever to throw four TD passes in their debuts.
“We obviously knew he could do what he did today," Titans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins said despite not practicing much with Levis. "And that’s how he practices. That’s how he approaches the game.”
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.
A three-time All-Pro wide receiver, Hopkins finished with 128 yards and three TDs on four catches. Nick Westbrook-Ikhine caught Levis' fourth TD pass, a 33-yarder in the fourth with the rookie throwing off his back foot. Derrick Henry also ran for 101 yards.
Atlanta (4-4) came in atop the NFC South. The Falcons dropped to 1-3 on the road this season.
Ridder was evaluated for a concussion after being sacked five times before halftime. He was announced as having been cleared, but he didn't return.
The Falcons switched to Taylor Heinicke in the third quarter. Atlanta coach Arthur Smith, who spent 10 seasons with the Titans before the Falcons hired him in 2021, said this is why Heinicke is on the roster.
"We’re always going to be cautious, and I’ll be conservative,” Smith said of a player's health.
Heinicke 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.
Vrabel stuck to his promise, playing second-year quarterback Malik Willis. He came in on the fifth play of Tennessee's opening series and 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 the No. 33 pick overall in April out of Kentucky. He showed why they traded up for him throwing more TD passes through three quarters than Ryan Tannehill (two), who started the first six games.
By catching Levis' first NFL TD pass, Hopkins 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. That tied Hopkins' career high for TD catches in a game.
The Titans made clear they didn't appreciate Willis being booed when he came out for a run out of the shotgun just before Levis' second TD pass. Vrabel was seen trying to quiet the fans.
Levis said that left a “sour taste in all of our mouths" and that Willis will be a big part of helping them win this season.
"So let’s just come correct next time as fans and treat him correctly,” Levis said.
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 already have turned their attention to Thursday night's trip to Pittsburgh.
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