BALTIMORE — The Tennessee Titans (7-3) really had no business being in Sunday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens (6-4). And yet, full of toradol and pregame angst, Mike Vrabel’s team outlined the blueprint for another playoff run in their 30-24 overtime victory.
Improbable is what they do.
Their latest comeback had all the highs and lows of the typical Tennessee experience. An early lead was squandered. The return game served as this week’s special teams scapegoat. Superhuman efforts by wide receiver A.J. Brown in the fourth quarter almost fell by the wayside as Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson all but waltzed down the field with two minutes left in the game. Vrabel and the Titans pulled it out on an overtime 29-yard show-stopping touchdown by Derrick Henry, though.
Just like they drew it up.
Survival On The Edge
Imperfection comes standard with Tennessee. Everything in 2020 has its flaws, I suppose.
“I think so,” Vrabel said of Sunday’s game re-establishing the Titans’ gritty nature. “I hope so. I know the players believe that and can see that transpire out there, where it’s not pretty and where a lot of times guys can start complaining about the defense and offense. Like, ‘Hey, we need to get more points, or have longer drives.’ Never once did that happen. We stuck in there and guys fought. The defense came through, and when the offense had to, they were able to finish the game off strong in the fourth quarter and overtime.”
There were plenty of opportunities to voice complaints.
Vrabel and his players remained undeterred. When center Ben Jones had to come out of the game in the third quarter, back-up Jamil Douglas’ first snap sailed well over Henry’s head in a wildcat formation and turned a 2nd-and-Goal from the Ravens’ 7 into a wasted 3rd-and-27. Settling for 40-yard field goal make by kicker Stephen Gostkowski is not the worst outcome but leaves everyone watching feeling unease, given his 60% hit rate coming into the game.
Plenty of reasons to complain there, if they chose to, but Corey Davis (5 catches, 113 yards) and Brown (4 catches, 62 yards, 1 TD) would hear none of it. When Tennessee’s defense let Jackson and Co. drive 65 yards in 9 plays with 2:18 remaining in the game and kick a game-tying field goal, that unit immediately got back on the field after losing the OT coin toss and pressured Baltimore into a three-and-out on their next series. Offense got the lead they needed and finished, defense showed up with turnovers and stops when they were needed most and Gostkowski made all five of his field goal and extra point attempts.
Tennessee finally played their rollercoaster version of complimentary football.
The Road Ahead
The Titans came into Baltimore without their starting left tackle, left guard, slot receiver, outside linebacker, strong safety, outside corner, and punter.
Tennessee boarded the plane back to Nashville with Jayon Brown reportedly done for the year, down to their third blindside offensive lineman and with Jonnu Smith, Jones, Brown and Henry all leaving the game at various points with clear discomfort. While Sunday’s triumph over the Ravens helped ease their postseason position greatly, road games against the Colts, Jaguars, Packers and Texans all loom large with only two remaining home games in December hosting the Browns and the Lions. Regaining their position atop the AFC South remains critical, even in this year’s expanded postseason.
A divisional sweep by Indianapolis poses great peril.
Vrabel and his staff consistently get the best out of their teams when they should absolutely be counted out. The head coach improved to a record of 8-1 with 10 or more days to prepare (lone loss in his first career game). Like his squad, the head coach does not come without flaws. His team, however, always keeps his messaging close to home.
“I don’t think we ever lost faith,” said Tannehill. “We were struggling a bit, to put it simply. We weren’t finishing. We weren’t playing consistent enough. We needed to get back on track. Today, we were able to fight through some adversity in the middle of the game. Things weren’t going our way in the middle of the game. We got down but that belief never stopped. We kind of felt the tide turning there in the fourth quarter on offense. We felt ourselves gaining momentum, just eating up yards up front and making plays on the outside. The defense kept us in there at the end, and we held them to a field goal at the end of regulation and then, getting a big stop in overtime. There’s a lot of confidence throughout our team that we’ve been on a touch stretch there but when we get in a tough situation, we’re going to keep fighting and find a way to win.”
Vrabel enjoys giving local media a hard time about being professional second-guessers. In fairness, we absolutely are. There will always be things to pick apart in wins and losses alike.
Every time logic dictates that the Titans should be doubted, though, they find a new way to push through.
Featured Image: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports.