The Tennessee Titans will face the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday afternoon in the 2020 AFC Championship.
The last time the two teams faced was in Week 10 of the regular season, a game that the Titans won 35-32. Despite the win, the Titans were not in great shape at that point in the season.
However, the win catapulted the Titans to new heights, allowing them to move past the rut they were in and become a team that, now, is clicking on almost all cylinders.
WHERE WERE THE TITANS?
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Heading into that Week 10 game against the Chiefs, the Titans were coming off of an extremely disappointing loss to the Carolina Panthers. It was a loss that seemed avoidable.
In what could accurately be deemed a mammoth-sized lapse in judgment by offensive coordinator Arthur Smith, RB Derrick Henry received just two carries in the first half. As a result, the Titans offense sputtered and the team fell to 4-5.
A record just below the .500 mark through nine weeks of the season doesn’t sound like a terrible situation on the surface, but because of the way the Titans had gotten to that point, the situation was pretty bad.
All you have to do to understand just where the Titans were at that point of the season is read what was being written about them by the local media who know the team best.
I wrote two columns about the offense that week, the first of which was titled, “The Titans Offense is Defying Logic in All the Wrong Ways,” and the second, “The Offense is Having an Identity Crisis, and the Time to Get It Fixed is Now.”
Some of my colleagues were a bit grimmer in their takes on the situation, and those takes were accurate.
Joe Rexrode of The Athletic wrote, “QB Ryan Tannehill was mostly good for a third straight game as the starter, and it didn’t matter. And although the Titans will approach each day as if in the hunt until they technically aren’t, we’re heading toward prove-you-deserve-your-job territory. That’s the awaiting drama.”
Paul Kuharsky of PaulKuharsky.com wrote a column titled “[head coach] Mike Vrabel Should Take the Defibrillators to This Team,” which ended with this: “It almost feels mean to mention the ‘Good to Great’ that’s on the barriers ringing the practice field, a coach-built offseason marketing slogan gone really flat. Vrabel is a hopeful coach coaching an often hopeless team.”
Conclusion: the Titans were in a rough spot in Week 10. The team was desperately in need of a boost to save the trajectory of their season.
Luckily, they got just that.
WHAT HAPPENED IN THE GAME?
Thanks to great performances from Henry—who ran for two scores and 188 yards on 23 carries—and Tannehill—who was stellar on a four-play, 61-yard game-winning drive in the final two minutes of the game—the Titans finished the game on top.
They also got a little bit of help from defensive back Joshua Kalu, who figured out the cadence of the Chiefs’ field goal operation throughout the game and blocked their attempt at a game-tying kick as time expired.
The Titans defense held its own against superstar QB Patrick Mahomes, as well. While Mahomes did rack up an impressive stat line, he and the Chiefs offense were often forced to settle for field goals. Kansas City attempted six kicks during the game.
The win gave the Titans a big boost to morale, but it was also clear based on what transpired in the game that they had a lot to clean up if they had any hope of continuing to take steps forward.
Left tackle Taylor Lewan, again, was repeatedly knocked for penalties. He cost the offense 30 yards with a holding call, an unnecessary roughness and a false start.
The performance prompted him to refer to himself in the locker room after the game as an “[expletive liability].”
It was also unclear, even after his stellar performance, whether Tannehill truly could lead the Titans to where they desired to go. There was also a lot of deserved uncertainty surrounding the team as a whole.
Sure they beat the Chiefs, but would the Titans be able to knock off their pesty divisional foes, Houston and Indianapolis?
WHAT’S CHANGED SINCE THEN?
Since that point, the Titans have answered that question with a resounding yes.
They beat both the Texans and the Colts, and they’re now in the third round of the postseason.
Lewan’s penalty problem has seemingly disappeared, Tannehill has become the undisputed commander in chief of the offense and the team appears to have all the confidence in the world, as they should.
The offensive line, as a whole, has gone from struggling to pick up simple pass rush stunts to completely taking over games with its physicality.
If the Week 10 version of the Titans, which was nearing the point of implosion, could beat the Chiefs, then the current version of the team certainly can do the same.
The Chiefs have improved since then, but the Titans have improved more.
Cover image: Christopher Hanewinckel/USA Today