The Tennessee Titans took a seat at the grown-ups table on Saturday by erasing an 18-point Kansas City lead, silencing the loudest roaring crowd of fans in any sports stadium.
Titan’s quarterback Marcus Mariota was a quadruple threat – passing, rushing, blocking and catching his way to a 22-21 Wild Card win for the franchise’s first playoff victory since the premier season of Two and a Half Men (2003).
The Marvelous Mr. Mariota was elusive in the second half keeping plays alive by scrambling to find downfield receivers and running through the lane compliments of his fierce offensive line. He had five rushes for 52 yards, threw two touchdown passes, one of which to himself. A pass targeted for the end zone was batted by Darrelle Revis at the Chief’s 6, landing into the hands of Mariota, who dived in for the score.
Running back Derrick Henry had shades of former Titan Eddie George rushing for 153 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries. Henry’s heroics not only extended the team’s season, but along with Mariota, also may have saved the livelihood of head coach Mike Mularkey, whose job’s been on life support despite their winning record.
Wide receiver Eric Decker scored the game winner on a 22-yard Mariota missile into the end zone, getting redemption for his third and 10 drop earlier in the game.
Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau deserved a standing ovation for shutting down Kansas City after Chief’s quarterback Alex Smith took the Titans to the cleaners with 231 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the first half.
Smith and company were compromised without the services of star tight end Travis Kelce who sat out the second half after suffering a concussion on a hit from Titan’s safety Johnathan Cyprien at the end of a 12-yard reception late in the second quarter.
Cyprien had two enormous stops in putting the kibosh on Kansas City’s final comeback drive. Along with delivering a series of third down disappointments, Tennessee put the NFL’s leading rusher Kareem Hunt out to pasture holding him to a pedestrian 42 rushing yards.
And it couldn’t have been scripted any better that Mariota was the catalyst to the decisive blow with a perfect block for Henry to get the final first down with under two minutes remaining.
The spirit in which the refuse to lose Titans played on Saturday is a testament to the heart and soul of this team, but as they head to either Pittsburgh or New England they’ll need more than gusto to get past the divisional round.