NFL karma has a way of evening out. Months after quarterback Will Levis had to endure the humiliation of sitting unpicked through the first round of the NFL Draft, he enjoyed an NFL debut with some useful allies and a squishy opponent.
Levis made his NFL debut Sunday in relief of injured Ryan Tannehill, and led the Titans to an inspiring, effective 28-23 victory over Atlanta. He ended the day 19-of-29 for 238 yards and four touchdowns and zero interceptions. Levis kept veteran-level composure throughout the afternoon and may have changed the conversation around a team that's deservedly fallen out of the AFC playoff conversation the past two seasons.
Of course, Levis had the benefit of having DeAndre Hopkins — who caught three touchdown passes for the second time in his NFL career — and Derrick Henry sporting the same baby-blue Oiler throwback uniform. Levis also enjoyed the schedule benefit of drawing the Atlanta Falcons, a team for whom inconsistency is a guiding principle.
“Not a bad debut. He got some great efforts from the receivers; Hop really got us up and going,” Titans head coach Mike Vrabel said after the game. “Not only did Will get some good help, I thought the opportunities to move the ball were there, and he hit them.”
Levis barreled onto the NFL’s radar earlier this year as a cannon-armed weirdo out of Kentucky best known for social-media-friendly gimmicks like eating banana peels and dumping mayonnaise in his coffee. But his build and his arm led starry-eyed draft analysts to fall in love with him, so much so that he had a brief stint as the odds-on favorite to go No. 2 overall.
It didn’t work out that way as Levis plummeted through the first round like a banana peel tossed off the back of a stadium, and he packed up and left draft HQ in Kansas City. Tennessee, looking for additional options to back up Tannehill, traded up to get Levis with the 33rd pick of the draft.
Levis' performance reversed some ugly trends in Tennessee. The win marked the Titans' first win in 11 attempts against a team with a winning record. Sunday's game didn't just mark the most points the Titans (3-4) had scored all season, it brought to an end a grim Tennessee run of 23 straight games scoring fewer than 28 points.
It's too early to start Sharpie'ing Levis' name into the starting lineup, but he definitely adds a bit of intrigue to the trade deadline. The Titans' phones will likely be buzzing in search of inquiry on Tannehill's availability; a team like the Jets could definitely use a veteran of his skills.
Levis' four-TD performance in his first career start is one off the NFL record of five, set by Gary Cuozzo for the Baltimore Colts in 1965. It's the first four-touchdown debut since Marcus Mariota did the same thing for the Titans in 2015.
"I'm just one of 11," Levis said afterward. "A lot of guys that did their jobs won us that game."
But Levis' teammates wouldn't let him get away with the humble routine. "He's a very talented quarterback," Hopkins said. "Plays the game like he's been here before."
Henry was more direct: "He was ballin', huh?"