INGLEWOOD, Calif. (AP)Ryan Tannehill has been playing on an injured right ankle for at least two weeks, and it got a whole lot worse when Khalil Mack rolled it into a thoroughly unnatural position while tackling the quarterback during Tennessee’s opening series Sunday.
”It felt awful,” Tannehill said. ”It felt probably worse than it looked. A lot of pain. Whatever the top reading on the pain scale is, it was that.”
After a long time in the injury tent and a cart ride to the locker room at SoFi Stadium, Tannehill improbably returned to the Titans’ game against the Los Angeles Chargers after missing just one series. He performed admirably despite taking four sacks, and he even rushed for what became the tying touchdown with 48 seconds left in a game Tennessee desperately wanted to win.
The Chargers’ 17-14 victory left Tannehill facing a long, uncomfortable plane ride back to Nashville with a swollen ankle and thinning chances for a favorable playoff position – or even a postseason berth at all.
Jacksonville is now just one game behind the AFC South-leading Titans (7-7), whose four-game skid is their longest since 2015.
”No question, this is not where any of us want to be,” Tannehill said. ”Obviously didn’t see it playing out this way, but it’s where we’re at, so we have to just keep pushing, charging forward and come ready to play next week.”
Tannehill acknowledged no concern that he won’t be ready to play when the Titans host Houston on Christmas Eve, but it’s clear that very few Tennessee players are fully healthy. The Titans already were missing seven presumptive defensive starters and a handful of key offensive players before they went to SoFi and incurred roughly seven additional injuries. Coach Mike Vrabel provided no postgame updates.
Tannehill spent a long time in the blue tent after his grotesque ankle roll, peeking out through the mesh vents to watch his teammates. When he got on a cart for the long ride to the medical evaluation area, even Tannehill thought his day might be over.
”It wasn’t a good feeling initially,” Tannehill said. ”(But) that crazy, intense pain calmed down after a little bit of time. Came in, regrouped a little bit and was going to go test it on the sideline, see where I was at. I was able to move a little bit. Felt like I could go in and be effective and move enough to protect myself and do my job.”
Tannehill passed for 165 yards and led two scoring drives, never complaining about the three fourth-quarter sacks given up by his two tackles. In the final minute, he took another hard hit when Derrick Henry and tight end Kevin Rader roughly shoved him into the end zone.
”Ryan is a tough guy, and he puts it on the line every day, no matter how he feels,” Titans center Ben Jones said. ”Every time he gets hit, it hurts us.”
It just wasn’t enough to keep the Titans in front when Los Angeles finally got its offense rolling for the winning field goal.
Lost in the offense’s struggles was a solid game by Tennessee’s occasionally porous defense against Los Angeles’ offensive playmakers. The Titans picked off two of Justin Herbert’s throws and held the Chargers quarterback without a touchdown pass for just the third time in his 46 career NFL games.
One of those interceptions was an immediate classic: With the ball at the Titans 25 in the waning seconds of the first half, rookie cornerback Roger McCreary followed Mike Williams into the corner of the end zone while Herbert uncorked a long throw over Williams’ head. McCreary leaped out of bounds and tipped the pass back to teammate Joshua Kalu, who caught it and toe-tapped in the end zone.
”I always wanted to do something like that,” McCreary said with a huge grin. ”How it happened in my head, that’s exactly the way it happened in the game. When I saw (Williams) wasn’t looking at the ball, I knew it was my chance to make a play, but I knew I wasn’t going to exactly catch it inbounds, so I saw my partner Kalu coming over, (and) being in an unselfish moment, I just passed it to him.”
The Titans’ sideline went crazy for the teamwork of McCreary and Kalu. Tennessee’s defense rode that momentum while shutting out the Chargers in the third quarter.
The momentum didn’t last, and the Titans are left facing a short week to figure out how to get it back.
”It’s bad,” McCreary said. ”Plays like that, people won’t never remember because we lost.”
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