NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Coach Mike Vrabel has been warning his Tennessee Titans they had reached a crossroads after losing back-to-back games.
Ryan Tannehill threw two touchdown passes, and the banged-up Tennessee Titans responded Sunday by never trailing in beating the Chicago Bears 24-17.
The Titans (6-2) avoided their longest skid since Tannehill took over as starting quarterback and stayed atop the AFC South going into Thursday night's division showdown against Indianapolis.
Still, Vrabel clearly wasn't very happy after his Titans failed to build on a 17-0 lead after three quarters.
"We just have to finish games better," Vrabel said. "We're up, dominating the football game and make it too close."
Amani Hooker recovered the Bears' onside kick attempt for Tennessee with about a minute left to seal the victory after Nick Foles made it interesting with a pair of late TD passes for Chicago.
Tennessee got a big boost from an undermanned and struggling defense missing three-time Pro Bowl linebacker Jadeveon Clowney with an injured knee days after linebacker Vic Beasley Jr. and starting cornerback Johnathan Joseph both were waived.
Cornerback Desmond King picked up a fumble and ran 63 yards for a TD only days after the Titans picked up the 2018 All-Pro from the Chargers for a sixth-round pick. King didn't join Tennessee until Saturday after clearing COVID-19 testing protocols and put the Titans up 17-0 late in the third quarter.
Once he picked up the ball, King said he knew he had to score. It was the third defensive TD of his career.
"I knew I had a short week of getting this down and not letting it be a distraction and using it as motivation knowing I have to get this done to go out there and play and have my teammates trust me while I'm out there," said King, who studied his new playbook and met with his new team virtually from his hotel room.
The Bears (5-4) came in trailing Green Bay in the NFC North dealing with their own injuries and COVID-19 issues. Chicago lost its third straight despite the defense coming up with three sacks and holding the NFL's fifth-best offense averaging 407 yards a game to a season-low 228.
"When you're sitting 5-1, to be 5-4, it hurts," Bears coach Matt Nagy said. "But now we've got to make sure, whatever those issues are, we just at some point in time get this thing back on track."
Tennessee came in as the NFL's worst on third downs by a big margin, but stopped the Bears on their first nine third downs. The Titans also were among the NFL's worst sacking the quarterback, and they sacked Foles three times. They recovered two fumbles.
This was the first game for punter Ryan Allen in Tennessee, reunited with his former Patriots teammate Stephen Gostkowski with three-time Pro Bowl punter Brett Kern put on injured reserve Saturday. Matt Overton also took over as long snapper after Tennessee also made a change at that position.
Foles was playing behind an offensive line missing center Cody Whitehair currently on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Foles threw for 335 yards.
The Titans' defense got a big confidence boost on Chicago's first drive. Foles hit Allen Robinson II for a 4-yard pass, but Robinson was marked out at the Tennessee 34 just shy of the first-down marker. The Titans stopped David Montgomery for no gain, sparking a big celebration by Tennessee defenders.
That gave the NFL's sixth-best scoring offense time to shake off a sluggish start.
Tennessee settled for a 40-yard field goal in the first quarter from Gostkowski. Then the Titans started their best drive by giving the ball to Derrick Henry five straight times, and they converted four third downs on a 12-play, 91-yard drive.
Tannehill capped the drive with a perfectly thrown ball to A.J. Brown covered by Buster Skrine, and Brown scored by reaching the ball out to the goal line. Tannehill also found a wide-open Jonnu Smith for a 2-yard TD in the fourth quarter.
"I'm proud that we got a win," Tannehill said. "I think it wasn't pretty. We didn't execute well enough. Too many missed opportunities offensively. The defense came out and played stout from the jump and kept us in it, and the offense was able to make enough plays to get the win."
Titans tight end MyCole Pruitt hurt his right knee late in the first quarter and had to be helped off the field. Rodger Saffold hurt a shoulder in the second quarter and went to the locker room. Defensive back Dane Cruikshank also injured a groin muscle.
Chicago defensive back Sherrick McManis hurt his hand and didn't return.
The Titans came in allowing opponents to convert 61.8% on third downs. They held Chicago to 2 of 15 for a 13% rate that was easily their best this season. But they did allow the Bears to convert 3 of 4 fourth downs after the first stop on Chicago's opening drive.
Linebacker Jayon Brown, who had a team-high 10 tackles and a sack, said they made sure to talk more through to be on the same page.
"When it came down to third down, we made the plays to get off the field and give our offense back the ball."
Bears: Start a three-game swing through the NFC North hosting Minnesota in prime time on Nov. 16.
Titans host Indianapolis on Thursday night.