By JASON MARTIN (@JMartZone – December 29, 2019)
9-7. Playoffs. Controlled your own destiny and did enough to extend your season into extra frames. Now, New England, yes NEW ENGLAND, awaits in the Wildcard round. Here are my Big 6 Takeaways from the end of the 2019 regular season for the Titans, but not the last game they’ll play during the campaign.
11 HITS FOUR DIGITS
AJ Brown has been ridiculous this season. This isn’t a note that requires must exposition. He’s a rookie WR in a class that wasn’t highly touted, but has outperformed its hype level, and Brown has been the best of all of them. He looks like a true number one WR, unlike the guy the Titans drafted for that role a few seasons ago. He makes every play, his yards after catch numbers are absurd, and he has insane drive and passion for the game.
It was a neat moment for Marcus Mariota to enter the game for one play and throw the pass that put 11 over a thousand yards, especially after the story of Brown weeping to Marcus in Denver, believing he hadn’t done enough for his quarterback and apologizing profusely for letting Mariota down. This felt appropriate and a snapshot in time of the one-time future savior of the franchise throwing the ball to the new “it” guy on offense. Both will enjoy how it played out today, even if the circumstances that made it memorable weren’t ideal for Marcus.
Kyler Murray has been very good, Josh Jacobs has as well, but AJ Brown is getting my Offensive Rookie of the Year vote, or would if I had one officially. Today, he had his fifth 100-yard receiving game. He’s the first rookie in franchise history to hit that number. Plus, the 47-yard grab in the fourth quarter had a 6.2% chance of success, per Next Gen Stats, making it the most improbable completion of the 2019 season.
AJ Brown does improbable things… routinely.
Is playing like a group that will be the reason the Titans get trucked right out of the playoffs. Two abysmal efforts on Houston’s first two scoring drives, and next week it’s not AJ McCarron and a bunch of guys with last names we don’t recognize. Next week it’s Tom freaking Brady AT home IN the postseason. Whatever you believe about the 41-year old right now, that should frighten you to death.
The secondary is struggling to say the least, the run defense is giving up bigger and bigger chunks, and the squad is having trouble getting off the field on third (and fourth) downs. It’s got to be better. Simple as that. The Texans numbers weren’t that impressive, but these were the backups against your starters, and there were multiple instances on multiple drives of bad tackling, terrible angles, and an inability to pressure the quarterback.
Or they’ll be watching the playoffs as soon as they lose to the Patriots.
Another rock solid performance from Ryan Tannehill. He’s been so efficient and careful with the football, throwing high completion percentages all over the field, even in tight windows, and not making seemingly any crucial mistakes. He has total trust in AJ Brown, he knows what his running back will do when he hands it off, and the offensive line has been far better in December than they were earlier in the season.
When does a fluke become something with staying power? Detractors and skeptics remain, both inside the NFL and watching externally, but could me as one who buys into Tannehill for the next few years. If you can franchise tag him and watch him for another year, do it if you have to, but he has more than earned this gig for next season.
Regardless of what happens in the playoffs. He’s the biggest reason, along with Henry…why your team is playing next week. He also ends the season with the league’s highest passer rating, supplanting Drew Brees. Tony Romo said on the broadcast it’s a no brainer that he’s the QB for the Titans next season…that he’s the guy. I tend to agree, at least in the short term.
THANK THE DOLPHINS?
Who would you rather see right now? Seriously, it’s a tough question, because we know what New England has done in the postseason before. However, they haven’t played on Wildcard Weekend since 2012, when they were crushed by the Ravens. This Patriots offense isn’t very good, has very few weapons, but has the most decorated starting quarterback in the history of the NFL.
Belichick or Reid in the playoffs…who do you want? The answer is obvious. And Brady has done it before, where Mahomes hasn’t. Still, you should have a better chance to win over a beatable Patriots team than going on the road to defeat Kansas City for the second time in a calendar year. The Fins win ranks as, from a point spread perspective, one of the top six upsets in the past 30 years in the NFL, as New England was a 17.5 favorite at kickoff.
If the defense plays next week as it has throughout December, Brady will still do enough to beat Tennessee. They’ve got to step up. And you pick against New England in the playoffs at your own peril.
THE RUSHING TITLE
Derrick Henry needed a big day to supplant Nick Chubb for the rushing title. He had a big day, again doing a lot of damage in the third quarter as he has all year, but I assumed he would be taken out in the fourth before hitting the number. I thought, yeah it would have been nice, but working for it late and getting him hurt would have been incredibly stupid. He got out of this game healthy, the Titans won it, didn’t see any key contributors go down, and that’s all you needed and should have wanted from this one.
After the Byard INT, Henry stays in the game…and then he gets within 11, then he busts a long TD run to seal the victory, win the rushing title, and solidify an awesome season. Chants of “Henry, Henry, Henry” were audible in Houston after he won the title. Good for him. Likable, worked hard, dealt with adversity, dealt with “trade him,” and now he’s as feared a back as exists in the NFL.
His health is the most important on the team, and the week off against the Saints did him some good. 32 carries for 211 yards and 3 TDs. He will probably be the FedEx Ground Player of the Week again. As he should. He’s fun to watch. Thank goodness I don’t have to try and tackle him.
Enough said. Now, you play until you lose or until you’re holding the Lombardi Trophy. Everybody goes to 0-0.
Until next week… the defending Champs and the team of the decade and century thus far in American sports stands waiting for you. But you get to play that game, have a chance to win it, and you’re in the playoffs at 9-7. After the way the season began and the quarterback change, it’s nothing short of remarkable what we’ve seen. The team, particularly the offense, deserves a lot of credit, which means Arthur Smith deserves a lot of credit, as do his players.
And AJ Brown… bruh. He’s going to go down, barring something unforeseen, as the best receiver ever to play for the Tennessee Titans in Nashville. He’s on that trajectory anyway.
On to Week 18… the one everybody plays to earn.