Patriots vs. Titans score, takeaways: Malik Willis flashes in Tennessee's final preseason outing

NASHVILLE, Tenn. --The Tennessee Titans and New England Patriots wrapped up the 2023 NFL preseason in Nashville on Friday night, and it was Mike Vrabel's squad that left Nissan Stadium victorious, 23-7.

The Titans started more first-stringers than they had all preseason this week, including quarterback Ryan Tannehill. However, he handed the ball off three times before exiting the matchup for good. Second-round pick Will Levis again did not play due to a leg injury, which left the door open for Malik Willis to build on his case for QB2. He completed 15 of 20 passes for 211 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.

As for the Patriots, this was not a dress rehearsal for the regular season. Bailey Zappe got the start at quarterback, while some of Bill Belichick's starters on defense played limited snaps. However, the defense did pick off Willis twice. Wide receiver Thyrick Pitts led New England with two catches for 26 yards, and Pierre Strong Jr. led the rushing attack with 31 yards on eight carries. 

Let's discuss a few highlights and takeaways from Friday night's matchup in Music City. 

Malik Willis

Malik Willis
TEN • QB • #7
CMP%50.8
YDs276
TD0
INT3
YD/Att4.52
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Willis was the topic of conversation this past week in Nashville. Did he do enough in training camp and in the full game against the Minnesota Vikings to claim the backup QB job over the rookie Levis? It's an interesting question, but the answer to that question was no. However, Willis was given another golden opportunity Friday night to make his case.

Willis played every drive but one in Tennessee's win over New England. He completed 15 of 20 passes for 211 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Here's how his drive chart looked:

Drive resultPlays & Yards

Made FG

7 plays, 51 yards

Made FG

4 plays, -4 yards

INT

4 plays, 24 yards

Missed FG

10 plays, 54 yards

TD (throw from Willis)

10 plays, 90 yards

INT

8 plays, 46 yards

TD (throw from Willis)

10 plays, 83 yards

Punt

4 plays, 20 yards

FG6 plays, 25 yards

There were ups and downs galore. You had highlights like these: 

And a couple lowlights, like this one:

Overall, I would say Willis had a pretty good night. But did he do enough to win the backup QB job? That's something we will discuss more on CBSSports.com later. 

If at first you don't succeed...

Unlike the Patriots, the Titans started most of their first-string players Friday night, and it really showed when Tennessee was on defense early on. After going three-and-out on their first possession, Patriots quarterback Bailey Zappe was hit by Denico Autry and fumbled.

Check out how the vet never gave up on this play. 

Calvin Munson INT

Calvin Munson
LB

Munson, who went undrafted out of San Diego State in 2017, has bounced around the NFL a bit, playing 43 career games for three different franchises. He's attempting to secure a spot on the Patriots roster, and this impressive interception should help. 

Julius Chestnut RB3?

The Titans have Derrick Henry and an intriguing rookie in Tyjae Spears, but RB3 may be wide open. Julius Chestnut rushed for 98 yards and scored two touchdowns against the Vikings last week, and he followed up that performance with another great outing on Friday night. Chestnut rushed nine times for 30 yards while catching two passes for 42 yards and a touchdown. 

Check out this 23-yard run, where Chestnut showed off his impressive vision. He has a strong case for a spot on the final roster. 

Titans kicking update

Mike Badgley
K

This week, the Titans released kickers Caleb Shudak and Trey Wolff and signed former Washington Commanders kicker Michael Badgley. The veteran reportedly did not have the most incredible week of practice, and I would guess Vrabel and Co. weren't entirely thrilled with his performance Friday night.

He hit from 44 yards, hit from 27 yards, missed from 39 yards, hit from 33 yards and made both his extra points. On his first attempt from 44 yards out, the "Money Badger" needed a little help from the goal post to fit the ball in. 

Tennessee is not done looking at kickers.

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First punt of the night for the Malik Willis offense. 

 
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Malik Willis is now 15 of 20 for 211 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Just 10 rushing yards on four carries. 

 
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