Undefeated Titans face biggest test yet replacing LT Lewan

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Titans’ winning mojo is about to get its biggest test yet.

Sure, the Titans managed to survive and even thrive despite dealing with the NFL’s first COVID-19 outbreak. They’ve also had players miss games because of injuries while winning their first five games for only the second time in franchise history —the first since 2008.

Now they will be without their three-time Pro Bowl left tackle with Taylor Lewan placed on injured reserve Monday with a torn right ACL.

“By Wednesday when it’s time to practice, I’m confident that we’ll have five guys that will be comfortable where they’re at and try to learn the game plan and be ready,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said.

The Titans lost Lewan in the third quarter of a 42-36 overtime win over Houston. Lewan was able to walk off the field and to the locker room by himself and broke the news of his injury himself on social media Monday.

“I’m going to be the biggest titans fan each and every Sunday,” Lewan wrote on Twitter. “We are doing something special here and this small set back doesn’t change a thing!”

Ty Sambrailo, a five-year veteran signed this offseason for depth, replaced Lewan in the game. Vrabel said Sambrailo has played a bunch as a backup already through five games.

“We’ll see what’s best for the team and try to move forward with the next guy in there,” Vrabel said.

The timing couldn’t be much worse. Pittsburgh (5-0) visits Sunday in a game rescheduled from Oct. 4 due to the Titans’ COVID-19 outbreak, and the Steelers lead the NFL with 24 sacks.

WHAT’S WORKING

The offense. The Titans rank second in the NFL averaging 422 yards per game, and only Seattle is scoring more — by just a point — than Tennessee (32.8).

Tennessee now has scored at least 30 in four straight games, matching a streak from 2019. The Titans also have scored at least 42 five times since the start of the 2019 season, most in the NFL in that span.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

Still the defense. The Titans gave up 10 plays of 15 yards or longer to Houston and a total of 412 yards for the game. Tennessee is dead last in the NFL in red-zone defense, allowing TDs on 87.5% of opponents’ trips. The Titans are 27th, allowing 409.8 yards per game.

STOCK UP

QB Ryan Tannehill. The easy choice would be Derrick Henry after he became the first running back in NFL history to run for 200 yards or more in a single game in three straight seasons. Henry ran for 212 yards and added 52 more receiving for his third straight season with a 200-yard rushing performance — the first in NFL history to do that.

But Tannehill threw for a season-high 364 yards and tied his career high with four touchdown passes for the second time this season. He also drove the Titans to their fourth winning drive in five games with the 82-yard series in overtime after driving them to the tying TD.

Tannehill ranks third with a 113.5 passer rating, and he’s tied for fourth in the NFL with 13 TD passes with the likes of Deshaun Watson, Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes.

“MVP, MVP,” Henry said of Tannehill. “Let’s start the campaign right now. We ain’t going to get too high, but MVP, I think he should be that conversation, definitely.”

STOCK DOWN

Stephen Gostkowski. The kicker who won the first three games this season with field goals had a rough game against Houston. He had a 27-yard field goal blocked in the third quarter and also missed a 37-yarder wide right early in the fourth.

INJURED

In addition to losing Lewan, tight end Jonnu Smith hurt his right ankle in the second half and never returned. But the Titans activated wide receiver Corey Davis from the reserve/COVID-19 list Monday. Vrabel said tight end MyCole Pruitt and Breon Borders, a defensive back on the practice squad, could be activated by Tuesday.

KEY NUMBER

5 — Not only are the Titans 5-0, they’ve had a different player lead them in receiving yards each time to start this season.

NEXT STEPS

Wrap up a three-game homestand Sunday with the team that was supposed to start this off Oct. 4, Pittsburgh.

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Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker

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