By JASON MARTIN (@JMartZone – January 19, 2020)
It was quite a ride, one that ended one stop short of Miami and the Super Bowl. Oh so close, but the future looks like it might be bright, even though there is work to be done in the offseason, especially in the front office. But, although the wound is fresh, here are my Big 6 Takeaways from the loss to the best player on the planet.
Patrick Mahomes isn’t fair folks, especially with those weapons and that head coach and coordinator. His arm talent is all-time elite, perhaps better than we’ve ever seen before. There is no throw he cannot make, and the next time I see him rattled will be the first. The reason I picked the Chiefs to win the Super Bowl prior to the season was because of Mahomes. The reason they didn’t reach Atlanta last year was because they lost a coin flip in overtime.
Mahomes holds the record for most passing yards in any game at Nissan Stadium, and he’s just so good that it makes you have to be almost otherworldly to beat them. When he’s healthy, he should be illegal. He went for over 440 in the regular season, nearly 300 more on Sunday in the AFC Championship. The game started a little wonky, just like last week, but just like last week, he just kept on being Patrick Mahomes, both through the air and yes, running the football, which is what he couldn’t do in Nashville fresh off that injury.
You might not want to hear it, but there is no shame in losing to that guy at this point in his career. It hurts right now if you’re a Titans fan, but you know in your heart your guys were beaten by the very best on his home field and with all his weapons in uniform. He will be a problem for everybody else… for a very long time.
After starting out fairly well, the Titans couldn’t run the ball in the second half, and at times came close to abandoning it, if you weren’t paying close attention. The yards dissipated and Henry just couldn’t get it going. Steve Spagnuolo sold out to stop the run and Ryan Tannehill started skipping passes short and running for his life in the third quarter. It wasn’t a sustained assault against him, but although he was decent, he wasn’t enough to bother Kansas City and open up more room for Henry.
In the early going, 22 had a lot of room when he ran to the left, but it disappeared deeper into the football game. Then, once the Chiefs got the lead, Tennessee tried to throw it more, but it just didn’t work. They were going to have to have a huge day from Henry to win, because if they got a lot of production from the running back, they would keep Mahomes and the KC offense on the bench and drown the clock. It wasn’t there, not in the second half. We didn’t see enough of Henry on second down, but ultimately, the Chiefs did a nice job against him.
I’m surprised Frank Clark actually backed up all his talk, only because it usually doesn’t go that way, even for a great player like him. He didn’t have the moment where Henry trucked him that would have broken your timeline. Instead, Henry got yards early, did virtually nothing late, and became an afterthought once Mahomes and crew got loose for good.
19 carries for 69 yards on Sunday wasn’t enough. The Chiefs held Henry to 3.6 yards per rush, his lowest total since DENVER, and the first team to hold him under four yards since the Broncos on October 13th in that 16-0 debacle that led to the quarterback switch.
DEFENSE WASN’T BATTLE TESTED
This was my rationale for why the Chiefs had the advantage, past merely Mahomes. The two playoff games Tennessee won, over Tom Brady and Lamar Jackson, featured offenses without a lot of OTHER dynamic playmakers and a dearth of receiving talent. Brady had Edelman, who dropped a key 2nd and 6 late in the game that might have changed the result, and Lamar had Hollywood Brown and Mark Andrews, not including Mark Ingram who was not himself.
The Chiefs have Kelce, Hill, Watkins, Hardman, and then Mahomes himself as the maestro of it all. Andy Reid’s offensive mind and willingness to adapt are among the best in the history of the sport. This defense feasted on offenses that weren’t all that deep, even with all the success they’d had. Here, it was so many guys that could beat you, so many ways they could do it, and the ability to score in bunches, quickly, in succession.
In three quarters against Houston, KC put up 51 points. No one expected that kind of thrashing, but after the first quarter or so, the Chiefs basically dominated this football game, making the most of every opportunity and not turning the football over. The Titans needed a few breaks, and after getting some the past two weeks, they got none on Sunday.
TITANS DIDN’T CRAWL BEFORE THEY WALKED
They walked… they didn’t crawl. Once Ryan Tannehill became the starting quarterback, Tennessee won the respect of everyone in this city, even the most cynical and jaded of fans. His future, well, that’s going to be the subject of a lot of discussion one would think. But they didn’t crawl or barely pull themselves forward.
It’s just that on Sunday, they needed to sprint. It was likely to be a track meet against Kansas City, and that’s what it was. The offense against New England and Baltimore put up a combined 42, and it was at least conceivable the Chiefs could do that by themselves.
But, considering 2-4 and everything that was going wrong for them, there is nothing but hope for this franchise. Yes, it’s incredibly difficult to make a Conference Championship game or reach a Super Bowl, and in the latter goal, the Titans came up short, but regardless of what personnel decisions are made, Mike Vrabel took giant leaps, not just strides, but leaps forward as a head coach. Arthur Smith was far better in his first year than most of us could ever have thought possible, and Dean Pees again impressed at the helm of the defense.
You wanted that Lamar Hunt trophy and you wanted a shot at the Lombardi, but you got awfully close. There’s no reason to hang your heads. I’m not a believer in a moral victory, but it’s hard for me to let you believe your team lost either. This franchise did not lose. They earned a TON of equity from the Music City and also from the NFL. This was a GOOD season, a really good one…
…a good to GREAT one.
LACK OF PRESSURE
Mahomes had to backpedal a little bit early in the ball game, but the Chiefs have an outstanding, elite offensive line, and this isn’t a new development. To beat KC, you have got to try and force the issue with Mahomes, despite how careful he is with the football. You have to try and manufacture a turnover. It wasn’t to be, not against a QB who in his 34 starts (now 35), only has three with multiple turnovers.
As the game wore on, KC dominated up front and the interior push from Jurrell Casey and anybody wearing a Titans jersey vanished into thin air. Two sacks on Mahomes, but he had all day in the second half, and NO it wasn’t because of missed holding calls. In fact, sorry but…
YOU’RE BETTER THAN THIS
Titans fans, you have to let go of this conspiracy nonsense, because it’s beneath you. You’re such a passionate fan base and you’ve supported this team, but you’re doing them no favors by all this talk about the fix no doubt being in, taking a video of an early flag out of context to prove it, and asserting that because it’s the NFL anniversary year, the Chiefs were going to go to the Super Bowl.
Almost every play where the Chiefs did something well, multiple people, even MEDIA people tweeting about missed holding calls. This has to stop. Homerism is one thing, but borderline whining is another. There were at least two bad calls on holds in this game, one that victimized Dennis Kelly and was a big play, but when is the last game that had great officiating? It doesn’t happen. You can’t use it as an excuse, because it balances out. Lamar Jackson took a 15-yard flag last week for a horse collar that didn’t actually happen.
Just because your team didn’t win today doesn’t mean something nefarious went down. What happened was the Titans offense just wasn’t good enough or consistent enough to keep up with Kansas City, who almost NEVER gets held below 23 points. You might not like me right now for pointing these things out, but this fan base is too much fun to talk to and interact with to watch you play the blame game. You’re not victims here. The team lost. If you watch sports long enough, that’s going to happen to your favorite team.
I’m a Braves fan. How many times did I lose? I’m a Broncos fan. How many times did I lose?
AFC Championship appearance after starting 2-4, the quarterback switch and the class of Marcus Mariota through it all, getting a rookie-of-the-year caliber season from AJ Brown, Derrick Henry winning the rushing title, Jon Robinson making some great decisions, and major steps in the right direction with your head coach and his staff.
The verdict? You should be darn proud of the Tennessee Titans organization. They played their guts out, didn’t quit, and made things very interesting, and on the way there, dethroned the defending Champions and the soon-to-be-named league MVP, both on the road. Kudos to the fighting Vrabels. Now, we see what a team that will enter with some expectations can do with that new reality.