NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The much-maligned Tennessee Titans offense got the job done against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday. The defense did their part as well, even though Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes’ stat line (446 passing yards and three touchdowns) would seem to indicate otherwise.
Since the Titans’ pitiful loss to the Panthers last week, the team has been surrounded by a wave of well-deserved negativity. For at least a moment, though, it’s time to take a break from that.
Instead, it’s time to celebrate some heroes. Because, to take down the Chiefs and their red-hot offense, it takes heroes, and the Titans certainly had their share of them on Sunday.
Foremost among the Titans heroes was QB Ryan Tannehill, who put together his best performance since taking over as the team’s starter in Week Seven. He led the offense to a four-play, 61-yard touchdown drive that ultimately won the game for the Titans.
“He’s got that ‘don’t give a…’ attitude,” LT Taylor Lewan said of Tannehill. “It’s crazy the hits he takes, and he gets right back up. That’s the position that the quarterback should be in. Having a quarterback that takes control is a huge deal.”
On the drive, it was all Tannehill. He got things started with an 18-yard scramble, then hit TE Anthony Firkser over the middle for 20 yards.
Tannehill capped the drive off with a 23-yard touchdown pass to WR Adam Humphries, then ran for the two-point conversion on a zone-read play.
“That’s what it comes down to, the quarterback,” head coach Mike Vrabel said. “That’s what we see every week in this league, those guys managing that two-minute drill, getting guys where they want them to be, making guys believe that if they do their job, we’re going to score.”
“That’s the quarterback’s job. They raise everybody else’s level of performance.”
Now 3-1 as the Titans starter and undefeated at home, Tannehill has performed to a level worthy of posing this question: could the Titans end up considering Tannehill, not a 2020 NFL Draft prospect, as their QB of the future?
It’s a question that the Miami Dolphins, Tannehill’s old team, regretfully answered with a yes, and the Titans probably won’t head in that same direction as things stand right now.
But it’s impossible to deny the life that Tannehill has infused into the Titans offense over the last four games, and he deserves a lot of credit for the team’s recent winning ways.
BIG MOMENT FOR KALU
After Tannehill on the hero list came DB Josh Kalu, whose field goal block as time expired sealed the game for the Titans. He jumped the snap perfectly, something he had been getting close to doing all game long.
“I just saw the cadence. I could see their hands, their eyes, and the whole game I was getting closer and closer. It was a big play, with three seconds on the clock. It was either somebody blocks it, or it goes to overtime. I’m not afraid to make plays.”
“Teams will switch up [the cadence] here and there, but I felt like, the whole game, [the Chiefs] were really consistent.”
HENRY STRIKES TWICE
Next up, RB Derrick Henry (23 carries, 188 yards, 2 TD). He remains one of the few redeeming elements of the Titans offense, and he came up big when the team needed him most on Sunday.
The Titans’ second lead of the game came courtesy of Henry midway through the third quarter. The fourth-year back managed one of his signature long touchdown runs, scampering 68 yards and blowing right past the Chiefs’ hapless corps of linebackers and defensive backs.
Henry also scored early in the fourth quarter from one yard out to get the Titans within two points of the Chiefs’ then-lead.
When Henry is able to repeatedly manufacture chunk plays like he was against Kansas City, it is a massive boost to the Titans offense. It makes life much, much easier for Tannehill and everyone else.
“It’s good for momentum, good to get the crowd back in it,” Humphries said. “We talked about energy this week, transferring it to the field and having it on the sideline. When Derrick rips those big runs, it’s big for our momentum and our energy.”
THE FIRKSER CONNECTION
Finally, TE Anthony Firkser rounded out the hero list. He may have caught just three passes, but he had a major impact on the game nonetheless.
Firkser was the recipient of Tannehill’s first touchdown pass of the game, and he made a 20-yard grab on the Titans’ game-winning drive to set the offense up in scoring position.
He’s also someone that’s just worth rooting for. Last summer, Firkser was an undrafted rookie fighting and clawing to earn a spot on the Titans roster in Training Camp.
Now, thanks to his athleticism and chemistry with Tannehill, he’s become a key cog in the Titans passing game.
“I have a lot of confidence in Firkser and what he brings to the table,” Tannehill said after the game. “He’s a shifty guy who moves a lot like a receiver, and we feel really good about our matchups no matter who’s guarding him. He just continues to make plays.”
While these four players were the biggest heroes of the Titans’ big win, there are plenty of that could be named.
LB Rashaan Evans gave the Titans their first lead of the game on a 53-yard scoop and score following a David Long forced fumble. Humphries caught the game-winning touchdown. The offensive line hung in to give Tannehill a fighting chance on the last drive.
Moving forward, things are still murky for the Titans, now 5-5. The road ahead of them to a potential playoff berth is filled with obstacles, namely the multiple strong teams remaining on their schedule.
But, at least for now, the Titans deserve to be celebrated. Their win on Sunday was a big one, and there’s a chance it’s the win that finally spurs them onto bigger and better things following their upcoming bye week.
Cover image: USA Today/Christopher Hanewinckel