Making their first playoff appearance since 2008, the Tennessee Titans did not disappoint as they rallied from an 18 point deficit to be the first team in 60 years to rally from down 18 or more points to win a playoff game on the road.
Tennessee Titans Rally to Win First Playoff Game Since 2003
Call it what you will: an implosion by the Kansas City Chiefs in the second half, a failure of officiating or a great performance by the Titans defense supported by a great effort by Marcus Mariota; regardless the Titans are moving onto the divisional round.
In the first quarter, it didn’t look like the Titans had woken up. The Chiefs offense was going up and down the field and led 14-0 after the first frame. In the second quarter the Titans finally started to get things going but a failure by Corey Davis to run a clearout route allowed Marcus Peters to make an interception.
Toward the end of the second quarter, it appeared that Mariota had fumbled the ball after a jarring hit by Derrick Johnson. However, the final ruling was that Mariota’s forward progress had been stopped. Ryan Succop was subsequently allowed to come back on the field to kick a field goal to make it 14-3. But before the first half ended Alex Smith had found Demarcus Robinson to put the Chiefs up 21-3 going into the half.
One of the most crucial moments of the first half was a hit by Jonathan Cyprien on Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce. The hit knocked the All-Pro tight end out of the game. Had Kelce been in the game, it is unclear if the result would have been the same. Kelce has been the catalyst for the Chiefs passing game all season, and without him the Chiefs offense sputtered in the second half.
The Titans offense had started to move the ball in the second quarter, and finally they broke through when Mariota caught his own touchdown pass after it was deflected off Darrelle Revis and batted back to him. That was the turning point in the game.
Eventually the Titans running game expected to be seen all year game to play in the fourth. Derrick Henry began to take over and ran the Titans within one score in the first minute of the final stanza. The Titans went for two to get within three points, but Mariota was driven back. Fortunately, referee Jeff Triplette blew his whistle before Mariota lost the ball. Therefore, the return for two points by the Chiefs was void.
Later in the fourth, Harrison Butker missed a field goal off the uprights that would have given the Chiefs an eight point lead. He had been one of the better kickers all season but missed from 48 yards. After that happened, the Titans started to believe they would win.
Finally, with just over six minutes left, Mariota hit Eric Decker for the go ahead touchdown. Up one point, the Titans went for two again and once again did not succeed. So they were up 22-21 but Smith had plenty of time left.
Smith led the Chiefs into Titans territory but on fourth down with a little over two minutes left, but a long pass was broken up by Cyprien. After that, Henry salted the game away. Mariota capped his performance off with a block to spur Henry for the game winning first down.
Controversial moments in the game
There were some questionable decisions by the Chiefs in this game. They ought to have considered punting on that final drive and then try to establish good field position on the next drive. They also only gave Kareem Hunt 11 carries in this game, six of which were in the first quarter. While the Titans do have a weak secondary, the balance kept the Titans on their heels early on. The Chiefs abandoning the running game was perplexing.
As for the officiating, the call on the Mariota fumble which led to the field goal in the first half was perplexing. Furthermore, they should have reviewed the fumble on the play Kelce got injured. Perhaps he recovered his own fumble but it at least should have been reviewed. Had the Titans recovered it would have been seven fewer points for Kansas City. The non-fumble on the two point conversion in the second half looked like the right call.
In the end
The difference in the game was two fold. The Titans believed in themselves in the second half and Mike Mularkey out-coached Andy Reid. While many were at Mularkey’s throat at the end of the season, he deserves a lot of credit. He was willing to take shots down the field with Decker and Davis, which he needed to do to win. Delanie Walker was once again an ever-present threat in the middle of the field with six catches for 74 yards.
There is no doubt that this game will leave a sour taste in the mouths of many. But the Titans are moving on and will play either in New England or Pittsburgh next week. Tennessee better bring their A-game, because next week the same mistakes will sink them. Such as the punt return muff by Adoree’ Jackson that gave the Chiefs the ball in Tennessee territory. It ended with the missed field goal by Butker, so no harm done. Henry also lost a fumble that went out of bounds.
Despite his mistakes, Henry put the team on his back. He ran for 156 yards to keep the Titans offense going. He will need to keep the Titans offense on the field and either Tom Brady or Ben Roethlisberger off the field for the Titans to win next weekend.