Former Flames quarterback Malik Willis defeats Texans in first career start 17-10

Malik Willis continued to make Flames history Oct. 30, becoming the first Liberty quarterback to ever start a game in the NFL. 

Ryan Tannehill, the Tennessee Titans’ veteran starter, was officially listed as out prior to the game, dealing with both illness and an ankle sprain. The injury paved the way for Willis to get onto the field for the second time this season. 

While Willis wasn’t asked to do too much in his first career start, he performed well enough to allow his team to snag a 17-10 victory over the Houston Texans. It was the Titans’ running game that stole the show, as running back Derrick Henry dominated on the ground with 219 yards and two touchdowns. 

Willis attempted just 10 passes on the day, connecting on six for 55 yards. The third-round draft pick, however, wasn’t in any way unhappy about the lack of passing and was more than willing to allow the rushing attack to carry the team to victory.

“If they can’t stop the run, why would we not run it?” Willis told media postgame. “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.”

Willis’ best play of the game came in the second quarter, as he escaped the pocket and found wide receiver Robert Woods for a 16-yard completion. His low point, however, was on the Titan’s third possession when he threw a pass behind receiver Cody Hollister, which was intercepted by Houston defensive back Steven Nelson. 

While it was difficult for the rookie to get acclimated and find rhythm on the field, Head Coach Mike Vrabel constructed a game plan that would limit Willis’ opportunity for mistakes. 

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

What gave the Titans the best chance for success was, undoubtedly, putting the ball in the hands of their star, Derrick Henry. Henry offered Willis some helpful advice postgame, making sure the young quarterback knew NFL debuts aren’t always pretty. 

In Henry’s first game in the NFL, he carried the ball five times and gained just three yards. 

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

Cory is the sports editor for the Liberty Champion. Follow him on Twitter

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