The Titans took one big step forward by making the playoffs last week. They took an even bigger one Saturday when they posted their first playoff win since 2004.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – One week after another, the Titans are pushing the franchise’s dark years further into the past.In the regular-season finale last Sunday in Nashville, the Titans brought an end to a decade-long playoff drought, edging Jacksonville 15-10 to qualify for the postseason.
Only six days later, the Titans did themselves one better on Saturday, earning their first playoff win since way back in 2004.
Those are two pretty significant achievements for a team that – prior to the 2016 season – had won just five of its previous 32 games.
“It’s been a long time coming for this team in the playoffs,” Titans running back Derrick Henry said, “and then (we get) a win.”This victory, like almost all of the Titans’ wins this year, did not come easily.
In fact, for a significant chunk of time, it appeared the Titans weren’t going to allow themselves to come out on the winning side.
Sure, Kansas City was impressive in running up a 21-3 first-half lead over the Titans.
But for every quality play recorded by the Chiefs, the Titans seemed to hurt their own cause just as frequently.
Center Ben Jones set the Titans back during one drive by committing an unnecessary penalty. Wide receiver Eric Decker dropped a third-down pass that would have meant a key first down. Marcus Mariota threw an interception that ended the Titans’ most promising drive in the second quarter.
It was an agonizing watch for Titans fans, especially the large contingent that made the long drive to Kansas City.
It had to be even more frustrating for the Titans, who – to their credit – didn’t panic and throw the gameplan out the window.
“Guys didn’t blink an eye,” Mariota said of the big halftime deficit. “Through this entire season, ups and downs, the energy doesn’t change. That’s lot of credit to the guys for continuing to believe.”
We can’t be sure exactly what was said or done in the Titans’ locker room at halftime, but the end result was one of the greatest playoff comebacks in NFL history. Per ESPN, only one other road team in postseason history – the 1957 Detroit Lions – had rallied to victory when trailing by 18 or more points in the third quarter.How did the Titans do it?
Three of the biggest reasons were Mariota, Henry and a defense that blanked one of the NFL’s best offenses over the final 30 minutes.
Mariota did everything but sing the National Anthem in the Titans’ victory.
In no particular order, the Titans’ third-year quarterback: made critical runs; threw a pair of touchdown passes; caught one of those touchdown passes himself; executed one of the biggest blocks of the game; and – most importantly – led yet another game-winning drive.
He’s executed an NFL-best five of those game-winning drives this season, which has accounted for exactly half of the Titans’ victory total.
“He can pass, he can run and he can block,” Henry said. “You ever seen Friday Night Lights? He can do it all. Then he caught the ball, too, the (deflected) pass. It was a great job by him.”
Then there was the 6-4, 247-pound Henry, who – days after criticizing himself for what he termed a “soft” performance against Jacksonville – proceeded to steamroll the Chiefs for a career-high 156 yards. He hammered away at the Kansas City line all contest long with straightforward runs, then bounced outside for a game-clinching first down.
“Just grinding, run hard, run North and South, finish forward,” Henry said of his intentions coming into the game. “I had lot of negative plays last week. … It was in my head.”Said Mularkey: “He was a man on a mission to get a chance, another opportunity. Now he gets one.”
It’s impossible to ignore the contributions of the Titans defense, which made a huge turnaround after surrendering 264 yards and the three touchdowns in the first half. Over the final 30 minutes, Tennessee’s `D’ held the Chiefs to just 61 yards, three first downs and zero points.
The defense made an especially critical stop following Adoree Jackson’s muffed punt return, holding Kansas City to a missed field goal that kept the Titans within 21-10.
“I thought our defense had a great game for us,” Mariota said.
The hurdles will only get higher from here on for the Titans.
Depending on the result of Sunday’s wildcard game, they’ll travel to New England (the AFC’s top seed).
But one doesn’t get the sense the Titans are too concerned about being underdogs anymore.
They beat a favored Jacksonville team to reach the playoffs, then beat a favored Kansas City team to advance in the postseason.
Bring on the next challenge.
— Reach John Glennon at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @glennonsports.