As the Tennessee Titans prepare for a Wild Card matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs, let’s take a look back at the top three plays from the 2017 Regular Season.
The Titans inability to beat the Indianapolis Colts has been well documented. They had lost 11 straight over a six-year time frame, including nine straight in the House that Peyton Manning Built. Coming into 2017, the Titans had yet to win at Lucas Oil Stadium. With a roster lacking talent and Jacoby Brissett at the helm, 2017 seemed to be the year for the Titans to break this streak. After ending the overall losing streak in earlier in the season on Monday Night Football, the Titans had one more wall to break down in Week 12, but it would not come as easily as fans and the team may have thought.
Flash to the third quarter. The Colts are leading 16-6 with only two minutes and change remaining in the game. The Titans offense had been anemic for most of the day, but the spark they needed was on the horizon. Brissett took the snap and pitched the ball right of center to rookie running back Marlon Mack. Mack did not control the ball and bobbled it back towards the Colts end zone. A mad scrambled ensued that resulted in a Kevin Byard recovery. Two plays later Marcus Mariota hit Delanie Walker on a corner route for the first Titans touchdown of the game. The momentum swung and the Titans ended up winning 20-16.
I included this play because it represents quite a few important developments for the Titans this year. First, Byard becoming one of the best safeties in the league. Byard has been the ball hawk Jon Robinson saw at Middle Tennessee State. He has blossomed into a true game-breaker, tied for first in the league with eight interceptions. This play signifies everyone cheering for Tennessee has come to realize; if you need a play to be made, look for number 31. Second, this play helped begin the charge to breaking one of the most embarrassing streaks in the NFL. Being this inept against a division rival is a massive issue that has plagued the organization for a decade. To get this monkey off of the back of all players, coaches and staff was monstrous. Thirdly, this was an impactful win in terms of playoff qualifications. A W in the record column against not only a conference opponent but a division opponent, went a long way in breaking the tie for the wild-card spot.
Week 10 set the Titans up with a crucial game against another competitive AFC opponent, the Cincinnati Bengals. The Titans were coming off a big win against fellow AFC North team Baltimore the week prior. The Bengals sat at 3-5 for the season and looked to be a team the Titans should handle at home. The game would not have been close if not for some all too familiar mental errors. Tennessee held the Bengals offense in check, but a couple of interceptions from Mariota and a fumble into the end zone from Corey Davis let Andy Dalton and crew hang around too long. And then it happened. The Titans defense that had held up so well all day finally cracked. It was not just a small crack either. Dalton hit AJ Green with a slant pass, Green broke one arm-tackle and was off to the races for 70-yard touchdown. Admittedly, crack may be too understated, this was an earthquake-sized crevasse. The Bengals too the lead 20-17 with roughly 5 minutes remaining. Their first lead of the day.
However, the Titans would have the last laugh. Mariota led the offense down the field. With 50 seconds left and the ball on the seven, the Titans had three more chances. After squandering the first two, there was one more chance to win the game and avoid overtime.
Mariota took the snap with 42 seconds remaining on the game clock. He quickly scanned right before switching his vision quickly to the left. Almost certainly looking for a receiver actually in the end zone and having no luck, he glanced over to Demarco Murray running into the flat out of the backfield. As the pocket collapsed and pressure intensified, Mariota had to get rid of the ball to give his team any chance of scoring a touchdown. He flicked it a quick pass out to Murray, who gave one of his best efforts in an injury-riddled season. Murray was met at the three-yard line by a Bengals defensive back but explosively juked inside to his right. With the initial defender draped on his legs, the second Cincinnati defender arrived. Murray ducked underneath the tackle attempt from the Bengals safety. As a third and final defender approached, Murray slyly extended the ball over the goal line to score. This secured a huge victory for the Titans and was one of the highlights that will certainly end up on the Demarco Murray career reel.
Win and they are in. You heard that phrase mentioned or uttered by every fan, player or coach affiliated with the Titans. Not only was it true, but it also felt like a collective sigh. Yes, the team had underperformed and the offense had regressed mightily, but nonetheless, the team’s season-long goals could still be attained by beating the Jacksonville Jaguars. After a surprisingly successful season, the Jaguars sat at 10-5 and had locked up the division. Although they their playoff seed had been cemented, Jaguars coach Doug Marrone planned on going after victory and denying the Titans a coveted wild card spot.
The Titans defense was able to hold the Jags offense in check all afternoon, but after an unacceptable mental error was made by Derrick Henry that resulted in a Jacksonville defensive TD, the score only sat at 15-10 in favor of the Titans with a little less than 8 minutes to play in the fourth quarter. Both teams went on to punt on their ensuing drives. The Titans got the ball back one last time with the chance to bleed the clock and make the big dance.
It is third and five, Titans on their own 44-yard line with 2:13 left needing one first down to ice the victory and punch their playoff ticket. The vaunted Jaguars defensive line, aptly nicknamed Sacksonville by media and fans alike, were ready to devour Mariota and give their offense one more chance, but the Hawaiian Assassin had other plans. Mariota took the snap and looked upward for any open receivers. As is all too often the case with the 2017 Titans offense, no one was open. He stepped and slid out to the left. Mariota considered a throw to Derrick Henry and even pump faked before realizing that Henry was covered by two Jags defenders. Jaguars potential Defensive Player of the Year candidate Calais Campbell had finally arrived and was ready to force a punt before the two-minute warning. JUKE RIGHT. Mariota evades and looks back down the field. No one is open. The Oregon product saw his chance. He transformed back into the Heisman-winning dual-threat quarterback who dominated college football for four falls. After a quick switch of the ball from right hand to left, he began his sprint into the Titans history books. Jaguars linebacker Telvin Smith and safety Barry Church approached. This was a fatal mistake.STIFF ARM. GET THE FIRST DOWN. SLIDE. GAME OVER. PLAYOFFS.
Mariota has admittedly had an up and down season. Some of the blame is on the staff, but some does fall on Mariota. His ability to run has been hindered by season-long injuries, but when the season was on the line, he knew what he had to do. This not only personified the fight the 2017 Titans have but also shined a spotlight on the competitive fire that burns within the silent and mild-mannered Hawaiian.
This is a play that, while only gaining 13 yards, will be remembered for ages in Titans’ lore. Mariota put the team on his back and carried them to their first playoff birth since 2008.