By JASON MARTIN (@JMartZone – January 11, 2019)
At this stage, there’s not much that hasn’t been said that’s been proven either wrong or prophetic, but what we saw on Saturday night in Baltimore against the top seeded Ravens may well go down as one of the most improbable wins in the postseason in a while, depending on how you felt about Lamar Jackson that is. Some didn’t believe, and for them, this is all you needed to back up your point, although in the end, it was a matchup after a bye week and a rest week, and the Tennessee Titans aren’t a good football team, they’ve become a borderline great football team.
Here are my Big 6 Takeaways from the 28-12 win over the Ravens, which had to feel good for so many fans and former players, who got a measure of revenge for a few tough postseason losses to Baltimore.
In honor of Jeopardy’s Champion Week in Primetime, that’s the answer to the question, “What NFL running backs have rushed for 180+ yards in three consecutive football games?” He’s the answer. He’s the only answer.
And right now, he’s been the cure that ails a Ryan Tannehill that hasn’t had to do anything but not lose it. He’s the one moving the ball and chewing up defenses, and when you marry that to defensive performances in short yardage and near the goal line as we’ve seen over the past two weeks against New England and Baltimore, you’ve got the makings of the “you don’t want to see this team” concept for opponents.
What King Henry is doing, and what he has done, is nothing short of remarkable. I was attempting to try and figure out how the rest of the country feels about this guy, because we’re all so close to him and so close to this team that we’re watching and enjoying, but this has to be similar to how we viewed Marshawn Lynch in his prime. At some point, it ain’t no fluke and it’s worth its weight in gold.
That’s where we are. You pay this man. I said it last week. I’m not saying 15M a season, but you cannot let him walk away. For all we’ve gotten from Ryan Tannehill, it is inarguable who is most valuable to the team between the two. You try to keep Tannehill, unless someone offers him the farm, but you fight to keep Henry. He’s the only back in the league I feel this way about.
There’s only one Derrick Henry. He’s in two toned blue. And that needs to be the case for a while.
FLUMMOXING THE MVP
Lamar Jackson told reporters following the loss that the Titans defense didn’t do anything particularly “spectacular” or anything they hadn’t seen before. It was on him and on the team, with poor execution. That of course meant drops from the receivers (I believe they had at least six), some errant throws from Jackson, and a few turnovers to boot.
But what it meant to me was that the Titans didn’t have to do anything special. Playing their game was enough to beat the league MVP at home in the playoffs. He wasn’t wrong though, as the Ravens didn’t play well. They have to be better. That’s what he said. He’s right, but credit Tennessee’s defense and THEIR execution. They played disciplined football and their precision created a scenario where almost ANY mistake would be magnified and could cost Baltimore the game.
Speaking of which…
OFF HIS FINGERTIPS
This was the play that changed the game. Had it not happened, the tone of this piece might be vastly different. On the Ravens’ opening drive, after forcing a Titans punt, Baltimore was moving down the field. Lamar Jackson sees his tight end, Mark Andrews, with a little space at the Tennessee 19-yard line. The league MVP to be was just a shade high with the throw, and with Andrews nursing a bad ankle, he didn’t get up quite as high and the pigskin careened off the tips of his fingers.
Waiting to pounce following the deflection was one of the best DBs in all of football, Kevin Byard. He didn’t miss the opportunity, intercepting the pass and then, though it was a bad call, he got 15 more yards on the run back as Lamar Jackson was erroneously called for a horse collar tackle near the left sidelines.
I submit to you that had that play not happened and Baltimore instead scored points, especially if it had been six…this would have been a completely different game. It felt as if the Ravens never answered the bell after that haymaker. It was early, but this changed everything, and it’s the kind of thing you need to happen to knock off a top seed on the road. The bounces went the Titans way and they took advantage of every one of them.
14 points off of 3 Ravens turnovers. There, plus 22’s brilliance and the line’s solid play, is your football game.
Yep, that’s Ryan Tannehill’s yardage totals in the 2020 NFL Playoffs. Through two games, he has a TOTAL of 160 passing yards, but he still threw two touchdowns and ran for a third in this game. Almost every stat, on paper, favored Baltimore if you just look at the numbers from the game. It proves that numbers lie and you can manipulate them, because not only did Tennessee win, they dominated the football game.
I said on Thursday that Derrick Henry alone would not be enough to win this game. Ryan Tannehill would have to play well. He made two big throws for touchdowns, didn’t turn the ball over, and ran for a few first downs. And that turned out to be enough. Derrick Henry plus a careful Tannehill performance with a few big plays is going to be enough most weeks when you add to it a stellar defensive performance. He threw FOURTEEN passes in this game.
And they won it by 16 points.
It’s hard to believe the Titans could beat KC or Houston next week with another number like this in the yardage department from the quarterback, but both of the last two were hard to believe and both happened. At this point, maybe it’s time to stop doing anything but just BELIEVING in this team, because we’re seeing consistency and even improvement in so many different facets.
The Ravens had not failed on a 4th and 1 all season long. On Saturday night, they failed twice on 4th and 1 and went 0-4 on fourth down attempts during the game. The Titans took advantage of a hideous sneak attempt and, as they were last week against New England, were stellar in short yardage situations and in the red zone. Mike Vrabel after the game pointed to situational defense as one of the big reasons for the victory. He wasn’t wrong.
Baltimore did go 11/17 on third downs, but a lot of it came late, after the Titans had ripped out their hearts. The defense got a huge goal line stand last week at the tail end of the first half against the Pats. Similarly, it was bend but don’t fully break at the end of the half on Saturday night, with the Ravens poised to score before intermission but being held to a field goal. You want to see them more effective getting off the field on third downs, but it’s hard to argue much with Dean Pees’ group and the performances of guys like Correa, Casey, Byard, Ryan, Evans, and Simmons.
Really, outside of one bad play from Rashaan Evans, it’s hard to pinpoint any one play or player that didn’t get it done consistently enough to help the team, and Evans has been GREAT far more often than not. 0-4 and shutting down Baltimore in the “gimme” spots was massive.
MIAMI? COULD IT BE?
Yes. The two defenses Tennessee just ran through the face of are better than the two left in the AFC that they might face. Now, I’d pick Kansas City (my preseason Super Bowl prediction) to beat Tennessee, but I absolutely think the Titans go to Houston and win. And, if they beat the Chiefs, torturing Andy Reid again, it wouldn’t surprise me. Nothing this team does from this point on in a positive sense would surprise me. They’ve made a believer out of me. What they’ve done has been extraordinary. Period.
I started my Fox Sports Radio national show on Sunday morning by dismissing the first narrative everyone would expect to hear. It’s the one you’ll hear everywhere. It’s about Lamar Jackson and the referendum built off two playoff performances, forgetting all he’s done and how many QBs have struggled in a few playoff games early in his career. But, I wanted to credit the VICTOR, rather than talk about the LOSER.
Diminishing the Titans defense and Derrick Henry most of all is malfeasance. This team deserves every mention and every headline. The Ravens may have choked in some respects and weren’t crisp, but the Titans beat them in virtually every phase of the game.