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Titans 27, Chiefs 3: Moments That Mattered

A fast start by the offense, big plays on defense and a special team star's return all factored prominently into Sunday's triumph.

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Titans looked like one of the NFL’s best teams with Sunday’s 27-3 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs at Nissan Stadium.

They ran their win streak to three games and improved to 5-2, tied with three others (Cincinnati, Las Vegas and Baltimore) for the best record in the AFC. Two others (L.A. Chargers and Buffalo) are 4-2.

It is clear now that the Titans will play meaningful games all the way through the league’s first 17-game regular season as they try to repeat their 2020 division title and recapture the postseason magic that they enjoyed in 2019. That said, there is still much football to be played.

“We are seven games into a 17-game regular season,” quarterback Ryan Tannehill cautioned. “We have a lot of football in front of us. We just have to stay the course, enjoy the wins, keep building, grow as a team and be able to put a good team effort out each and every week.”

It is difficult to know what will happen from here.

But these are moments from Sunday that were meaningful, both in the victory over the Chiefs and for what is to come.

Dupree does it. With 7:05 to play in the first quarter, Kansas City’s offense faced its first third down. Needing seven yards to continue a drive that already included two first downs, the Chiefs instead went backward. Titans outside linebacker Bud Dupree lined up on the right side of the defense, looped wide around the left tackle and dropped Patrick Mahomes for a seven-yard loss.

It was the first sack for Dupree with the Titans, and it was not a fluke. Mahomes did not scramble into him or trip over someone else before he was touched down. Dupree showed much of the speed and explosion franchise officials wanted to add when they signed him as a free agent. More so than at any point since that five-year, $82.5 million deal was signed, there is reason to believe it was money well-spent.

It also was the first of a season-high four sacks for Tennessee’s defense, and it forced Kansas City to punt. Had the Chiefs scored on that opening possession, the game might have turned into the shootout so many expected. Instead, it quickly turned into a one-sided affair.

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• Kern gets kicking. There was 13:37 to play in the contest when Brett Kern punted toward the right sideline and sent the ball out of bounds at the Kansas City 3-yard line. The Chiefs had not had good starting field position throughout the contest. This was their worst, and at a time when there still was a sense that anything was possible for Mahomes and his myriad weapons.

It was notable for a couple reasons. First it was 1:23 into the fourth quarter, and it was the first time that Kern got on the field to do anything other than hold on placekicks, a statement to how well the offense played throughout the day. Second, it showed that Kern, who missed the previous three games with injury and illness, was on top of his game when he returned to action.

Kern punted once more, and for good measure he stopped that one at the Kansas City 3 with some spin that caused the ball to stop as soon as it hit. Coach Mike Vrabel had been somewhat critical of the three-time Pro Bowler at times during the preseason and early in the regular season. There will be times down the stretch when the Titans will have to win field position battles, and it is clear Kern is prepared to do his part.

• Take It Away. With 8:07 to play in the second quarter, Kansas City got the ball for the third time. The score was 17-0, and it was clear the Chiefs felt a sense of urgency because on their first snap, Mahomes threw a pass roughly 20 yards down the left sideline to wide receiver Josh Gordon. Linebacker David Long broke up the throw, and Rashaan Evans plucked the ball out of the air before it hit the ground for an interception.

It was Evans’ first interception in the 54th game of his career (his first fumble recovery was against Kansas City at Nissan Stadium in 2019), and it was the first of three takeaways for Tennessee’s defense. Matthias Farley followed with a fumble recovery later in the quarter, and Evans added a fumble recovery of his own in the final minute of the contest. Still on the wrong side of turnovers for the year (minus-1), Tennessee is plus-5 in its last four games.

When the Titans and Chiefs met in the AFC Championship two seasons ago, Tennessee led 17-7 late in the second quarter. Kansas City managed to score twice in the final 4:03 of the half, took the lead for good and won the game (and the Super Bowl two weeks later). Evans’ interception made sure that would not happen again.

• Get it started: The opening play of the game was a 10-yard reception by wide receiver A.J. Brown. It allowed the Titans to go immediately into a no-huddle offense that put the Chiefs defense on its heels and got Brown started on what became his best game of the season. Tennessee stayed with the no-huddle until the seventh play of the drive, which ended with a touchdown.

It has been a rough season for Brown. He has battled a hamstring injury and – more recently – food poisoning. Before this game, he had caught just half of the balls thrown his way (17 of 34). When this one was over, he had caught eight of nine for a season-high 133 yards and a touchdown, and he looked every bit like the Pro Bowler he was in 2020 with his team’s three longest gains (46, 24 and 24 yards).

More importantly, the offense had produced one field goal and five punts on its opening possession in the first six games. Three of them were three-and-outs. This showed that the Titans could punt seven points on the board right out of the gate and what can happen when they do. Since the start of 2019, they are 11-2 when they score on their first drive and 16-3 when they score first.