The Tennessee Titans’ win over the New England Patriots in the Wild Card game felt a lot more like the mark of an elite team than a one-time flash in the pan.
Maybe I’m just coasting too comfortably on cloud nine after this Tennessee Titans playoff win. Maybe the shine of beating the New England Patriots, in January, in Foxborough will fade away.
And maybe the Titans will follow up their Wild Card victory with a loss to the Ravens, and settle in next year to another season of middling mediocrity.
But this win feels different. Making the playoffs alone is impressive in its own right. Actually winning a game in the postseason makes for a season worth celebrating.
However, Tennessee didn’t just win a playoff game; the Titans were able to beat the NFL’s dominant dynasty of the last two decades in their own home.
Better yet, the Titans were able to beat the Patriots by doing what they have done all season. Tennessee didn’t change their game plan for a one-time win. New England didn’t beat themselves with costly mistakes, turnovers, or penalties.
Rather, the Titans stuck to the identity that got them a 7-3 record in their final 10 regular-season games, and it resulted in a playoff win.
The offense fed Derrick Henry early and often, and he tore apart a Patriots run defense ranked sixth in rushing yards allowed, on route to 182 yards on 34 carries.
The defense played tough and forced a pedestrian game from Tom Brady, and kept New England under 100 rushing yards. And like they had in games against the Chargers and Raiders, the Titans showed up big and stopped the Patriots from getting into the end zone when given the ball in a first and goal situation.
The game, and the result, felt familiar for this year’s Titans. It just so happened that this time it came in the playoffs against the Patriots.
After years of trying to establish an effective offense to complement their talented defense, this win against the Patriots makes it look like Tennessee has finally found their footing going into the new decade.
Beating New England feels even more significant than the team’s 2017 playoff victory. Against the Chiefs, the Titans needed a historic comeback and a Marcus Mariota pass and touchdown catch to pull off the upset.
Against the Patriots, Tennessee held a close lead all throughout the second half, controlling the game on defense and sticking to the game plan they wanted to play. The Titans won because they were the better team.
Going forward into the 2020’s, the Titans look like they might be better than a lot of teams in the NFL. The team is well-coached by Mike Vrabel and Dean Pees, and offensive coordinator Arthur Smith came into his own in the back half of 2019.
General manager Jon Robinson has established a roster full of young talent on both sides of the ball, and if the team can bring back Henry and quarterback Ryan Tannehill in this offseason, Tennessee could be set up for at least a few years of success.
The 2019 campaign might not end in a Super Bowl. Tennessee might not be able to find their way past the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC divisional round.
But the Titans have established themselves as a legitimate threat in the NFL. By beating New England, the Titans showed how dangerous they have been and can be, and provided a glimpse of the success that might be left to come this decade.