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Malik Willis wasn’t about to apologize for an offense that threw just one pass in the second half of a 17-10 victory over the Houston Texans on Sunday.

Why would he?

It’s hard to imagine a safer way for a rookie quarterback to make his first NFL start then to turn and hand the football to Derrick Henry and Dontrell Hilliard, which is exactly what Willis did on 24 of the Tennessee Titans’ 27 plays in the second half. Willis ran twice himself.

“If they can’t stop the run, why would we not run it?” Willis told reporters afterward. “We’re not out here to throw for 300 every game or try to run for 300 every game. We’re out here trying to find ways to win. That’s all.”

Henry and Hilliard were indeed all but unstoppable for the Titans, who finished with 45 carries for 314 yards and a pair of touchdowns on the ground. On the first of the two second-half scoring drives, the backfield duo ran the ball nine straight times for 80 yards. On the second, they ran the ball on 11 of 12 plays, with Willis’ one pass attempt falling incomplete before Randy Bullock kicked a field goal.

“It was (Willis’) first NFL start, on the road, crowd noise and all those things,” coach Mike Vrabel said. “So we try do what we felt like gave us the best chance to win the football game.”

The dominance of the Titans’ ground game didn’t provide much of an overall sample size to grade Willis, one of Tennessee’s two third-round picks in this year's draft. We’re left evaluating a first-half performance that was predictably rocky given that Willis arrived in the NFL after playing in an RPO-based offense at a non-power 5 school (Liberty University).

Willis' best play in the passing game came in the second quarter, when he avoided heavy pressure and completed a pass for 16 yards and a first down to Robert Woods.

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But there were some disappointing moments.

On the Titans’ third possession, Willis' third throw of the days was late and behind receiver Cody Hollister. Houston defensive back Steven Nelson intercepted the pass and returned it 33 yards to set up a Texans field goal.

Two possessions later, on a drive that began at Houston’s 37 yard-line, Willis missed a wide open Chig Okonkwo downfield. The quarterback waited too long to make the throw and failed to set his feet properly.

Willis was six-for-nine for 55 yards and the interception in the first half, was sacked three times and posted a quarterback rating of 43.5.

Then he got virtually no opportunity to better those numbers in the second half. He did, however, come close to scoring his first NFL touchdown, gaining four yards around left to the Texans’ 1-yard line – and setting up Henry’s TD on the next play.

“It was good,” Willis said of his first start. “We got a `W’. That’s all you want to go out and do. Yeah, there’s things you want back, (but) it’s my first start, so I can’t be too critical of myself. … I’m definitely appreciative for a `W.’”

Added Vrabel: “I thought (Willis’ performance) got better. (Sunday), there were some good things and some things that – if he’s the quarterback for us next week – that we’ll have to be better at. But that will be the same for everybody.”

Henry offered some good perspective on Willis’ first performance, noting that he himself had an NFL debut that was less than memorable. In his first game as a rookie in 2016, Henry carried five times and gained three yards. It was actually three seasons before Henry became the Titans’ starting running back, which is hard to believe now that he’s piled up over 7,500 career rushing yards, two NFL rushing titles and a 2,000-yard season..

No one’s saying Willis will necessarily follow that same path, but there’s no need to make long-term judgments on Willis after one start.

“I told (Willis) that my first year, it wasn’t great and I wasn’t the best,” Henry said. “But as time goes on, you learn and you get more experience. I think he’ll be special as time goes on.”