Titans hapless as Eagles, Jalen Hurts, A.J. Brown show off skills

AP photo by Matt Slocum / Tennessee Titans receiver Treylon Burks, left, scores a touchdown despite a hard hit from the Philadelphia Eagles' Marcus Epps during the first half of Sunday's game.

PHILADELPHIA — A.J Brown pulled out a towel and wagged his finger at the goal post before swatting three times.

The hard feelings didn't last. Brown then hugged the post and let bygones by bygones.

Oh, in case the allegory was missed during Brown's celebration for the Philadelphia Eagles against his former team, the goal post in this instance stood in for the Tennessee Titans.

"Today, I'm going to have to give you this whooping," Brown said with a laugh. "But I still love you, though."

The Titans might not reciprocate the love after their former receiver torched them with eight catches for 119 yards and two touchdowns Sunday. Looking Brown's way early and often, Jalen Hurts strengthened his bid for NFL MVP by throwing for 380 yards and three touchdowns and running for another score as Philadelphia beat Tennessee 35-10.

The 24-year-old Hurts has led the Eagles to an 11-1 start, their first time with that record since 2004 and the fourth time in franchise history. The 1949 Eagles won the NFL championship, while the 1980 and 2004 teams lost in the Super Bowl.

These Eagles look every bit like a team that can win the biggest of the big games.

Hurts was all they really needed to inch closer to a playoff spot.

"We'll leave all the MVP stuff to who votes for all that," Brown said. "But he's doing a great job leading this team. He's a great leader. He's still climbing. He wants the team to be great."

The speedy, sure-armed quarterback set a career high with 29 total touchdowns and had his third career game with four total touchdowns. His first half alone was a pretty good game for most quarterbacks: 268 passing yards and two touchdowns with one rushing score.

Philadelphia's defense was first-rate, too, bottling up Derrick Henry — the two-time NFL rushing champion had 11 carries for 30 yards — and limiting Ryan Tannehill to 141 passing yards and a touchdown while sacking him six times. The Titans (7-5) lost their second straight game but still have a comfortable lead in the AFC South as they seek their third consecutive division title.

After a field goal got Tennessee within 14-10 late in the second quarter, the Titans punted on five straight possessions before turning it over on downs.

"If we want to be a playoff team, we have to decide what we are going to do," Titans safety Kevin Byard said. "What are we going to be? Leaders, coaches, everybody in this organization, we have to get this thing straight right now. We don't have any time to lose. What are we going to do right now?"

It was inevitable that Hurts would look for Brown. Tennessee drafted him in the second round of the 2019 draft, and he instantly became one of the top receivers in the game. He topped 1,000 receiving yards each of his first two seasons and had 869 in just 13 games in his third, but the Titans balked when Brown wanted a raise that would make him among the highest-paid receivers in the league. Instead, they traded him to Philadelphia this past April on the first night of the draft.

In hindsight, that move was the Eagles' first win of the season.

Brown said he had wanted to retire a Titan and admitted he had the game circled on his calendar.

"It's been personal since the trade," he said. "I was just trying to keep it down. That's where I wanted to be. Things just didn't work out. It was like, 'Here, we don't want you anymore.'"

Brown has been better than advertised — and yes, the Eagles paid him a guaranteed $57 million.

DeVonta Smith added five catches for 102 yards for Philadelphia on Sunday.

With the game tied at 7, Hurts and Brown connected on an apparent 40-yard touchdown pass that was overturned because of a penalty. Brown had already hugged the goal post as part of his scoring celebration. No worries. Hurts came right back and hit Brown — who bowled over cornerback Kristian Fulton — for a 40-yard touchdown and a 14-7 lead.

Hurts threw a 34-yard touchdown pass to Smith on the game's first series and closed the first half with a 2-yard run for a 21-10 lead.

The next Hurts-to-Brown touchdown was a doozy. Hurts aired it out to the corner of the end zone, and the ball skimmed cornerback Tre Avery's facemask before Brown cradled it for the 29-yard score and a 28-10 lead in the third.

"That's a big boy catch," Hurts said. "That's a grown man catch."

Miles Sanders' 3-yard touchdown run in the fourth made it 35-10, and the only suspense left was if Hurts would return for another drive. He didn't.

The game was out of reach, but the best season in team history remains very much in sight.

As for the Titans, their lone touchdown came at significant cost. Rookie receiver Treylon Burks was evaluated for a concussion after a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit as he jumped to make the 25-yard catch from Tannehill in the first quarter that tied the game at 7.

Eagles safety Marcus Epps was flagged for unnecessary roughness. Burks was on his back, and players from both teams took a knee, but the 22-year-old eventually walked off on his own power and went to the locker room for treatment.

Burks was taken with the No. 18 overall pick, which the Titans received from the Eagles in the Brown trade, but the rookie had downplayed comparisons to his predecessor this past week heading into the game. He never really got a chance to show his skills in Philadelphia, where no one on the Tennessee roster could claim a good day.

"I think we're at a crossroads with how we kind of want to continue down this season," Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. "We can't point fingers. We have to assume that each and every one of us didn't do a good enough job, because we didn't."

That included Henry. He entered second in the NFL in scrimmage yards (1,326), rushing yards (1,048) and rushing touchdowns (10), but that was in spite of an uncharacteristically rough showing on the ground in last week's home loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, running for just 38 yards.

His longest run against the Eagles covered 6 yards.

"I pride myself on being a playmaker with this team, and I haven't done it the last two weeks," he said. "It's tough to get two losses and I haven't had success."

The Titans are still the only team in their division with a winning record and still have a grip on earning a top-four playoff seed in the AFC.

"It's time to focus on getting better," Henry said.

Vrabel, though, has been around long enough to know that one or two losses can sometimes spiral into three or four — or at least slow a team's momentum heading into the playoffs.

"It sucks losing. It sucks getting beat the way we did," Vrabel said. "We've got to make a decision in how much we're willing to invest and trust in what the coaches are doing, what other players are doing. I think it's a critical time for us."

The good news: There's a chance to steady things in the next game, against the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars (4-8), who lost 40-14 to the Detroit Lions on Sunday.

"Everyone has a role in it," Tannehill said. "I try to go win a game each and every week. That process won't change. I know we have a division game at home this week, and we've got to find a way to win."