The Tennessee Titans used an 18-point comeback to beat the Kansas City Chiefs and advance to the Divisional Round of the NFL Playoffs.
In a game where nearly every single national media member, outside of ESPN’s Randy Moss and NFL Network’s Adam Rank, gave the Tennessee Titans no chance to win, the Two-Tone Blue pulled off an 18-point comeback to beat the Kansas City Chiefs 22-21 and advance to the AFC Divisional Round.
Before the game even began, Titans nation was in uproar due to a report that head coach Mike Mularkey’s job would be in danger if they lost today. There was also the rumor that RB DeMarco Murray will likely not be back next season, and that Derrick Henry is seen as the feature back going into the future.
That information could not have come at a worse time. The Titans were getting ready to play their first playoff game since 2008, and the news was surely a distraction for Mularkey and for the team. But they didn’t let it affect them.
The game started out poorly, with the Chiefs taking a 14-0 lead on RB Kareem Hunt and TE Travis Kelce touchdowns. The Titans defense couldn’t do anything to cover Kelce or speedy WR Tyreek Hill. Accentuating the ominousness was an interception thrown by QB Marcus Mariota, who didn’t see playmaking Chiefs CB Marcus Peters peel off the WR and jump TE Delanie Walker’s route.
The Titans offense continued to move the ball rather well, but could only muster a field goal on their last possession before the half. The drive stalling gave the Chiefs the ball back with a little under two minutes left. On the second play of that possession, Kelce caught a 12-yard pass and was hit extremely hard by S Johnathan Cyprien, who legally led with his shoulder but accidentally caught Kelce in a helmet-to-helmet collision. Kelce got up woozy and couldn’t return to the game with a concussion designation. His absence changed the game.
QB Alex Smith and the Chiefs offense drove down the field on that drive and got seven more points on a Demarcus Robinson touchdown reception.
It seemed like it would be a futile afternoon for the Titans, as the half ended 21-3 in favor of the Chiefs. But as has been the case for the duration of Mularkey’s two-year tenure as Titans head coach, his team did not quit in a game where many would.
The offense came out of the locker room scalding, uncorking a 15-play, 91-yard drive that took eight minutes and 29 seconds off the clock, culminating in a play that is scored a Marcus Mariota six-yard touchdown reception from Marcus Mariota and will be talked about for decades. Mariota rolled out on the play and tried to fit in a dart to WR Corey Davis, but his pass was knocked down. As Mariota was falling off balance to his left, he located the ball, caught the deflection and dove into the near left corner of the end zone for a touchdown. No one could hardly believe it.
The Chiefs went three and out on their next series, but an Adoree’ Jackson muffed punt gave Kansas City the ball back in field goal range. They could only muster negative-two yards on three plays, and their long field goal attempt was shanked off the left upright by Harrison Butker.
The Titans would take advantage, converting a 3rd and 10 with Walker and then getting a long 35-yard rushing touchdown by Henry, who was simply unstoppable all game. With the score at 21-16, the Titans lined up for two, but they ran a terribly designed play that gained one yard and would’ve been nullified by an Illegal Shift penalty regardless.
Dick LeBeau’s defense forced yet another punt on the ensuing Chiefs possession, and the Titans embarked on yet another long scoring drive, this time going 80 yards on 11 plays and eating up just over five minutes of game time. On the drive, Mariota converted three third downs, two through the air and one on a nifty scramble to the right for 17 yards. Mariota capped off the drive with an absolute strike to WR Eric Decker from 22 yards out. The Titans once again went for two, but it failed for a second time, and that meant the Chiefs needed just a field goal for the win with six minutes left.
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Smith completed a couple of short passes and set the Chiefs up with a 1st and 10 from the Titans’ 45 yard line. An unlikely hero would show up at the most important time. Cyprien dove to break up a short pass on 2nd and 9, and then on 4th and 9, he broke up a deep pass to WR Albert Wilson by laying a hit on him as the ball arrived.
Tennessee got the ball back with 2:09 left in the game. Eager to melt the clock, the Titans put the ball in Henry’s gut. On the first carry of the drive, Henry rushed around the left end for 12 yards and a first down.
On the following play, Henry was knocked down behind the line of scrimmage by Peters, who stripped him of the ball after he had already been down by contact. The Chiefs returned the fumble for a touchdown, but it was easily overturned after a review.
On 2nd and 12, Henry gained just two yards and the Chiefs used their second timeout. With 3rd and 10 looming, the Titans could either run the ball and the clock or opt to throw the ball, risk stopping the clock and leave the Chiefs with just under two minutes and a timeout.
The Titans ran it with Henry, who had nowhere to go inside, bounced it outside, got a lead block from Mariota, of all people, and sprinted 22 yards for the game-clinching first down.
The clock wound down and the Titans won their first playoff game since the 2003 season. For the second year in a row, the Titans held the Chiefs offense to zero points scored in the second half of a game. And for the second year in a row, the Titans beat the Chiefs on their own home turf. It was just a bit more important this time around.
The Titans will now face the New England Patriots next Saturday night in Foxborough in the AFC Divisional Round. Anything is possible with Mariota, Henry and the defense playing this well.