NASHVILLE – The Titans beat the Ravens 28-12 on Saturday night at M&T Bank Stadium to advance into the AFC Championship Game.
Here's a look at six things that stood out from the game as the team begins to turn its attention to next Sunday's game against the winner of today's Chiefs-Texans game.
Titans running back Derrick Henry continues to put the team on his back. And he's proven to be very sturdy. Henry ran for 195 yards on 30 carries, with a long run of 66 yards. Henry now has 377 yards in the team's two playoff wins, and he became the first back in history to post three straight 180-yard games. His 377-yard total in the two wins this postseason gives him the most by any player in a 2-game span in a single postseason in the Super Bowl era. As if running the ball wasn't enough, Henry also completed a three-yard jump pass to receiver Corey Davis. Neither the Patriots nor the Ravens appeared to have much interest in tackling the 247-pound Henry. This much is certain: Neither team had any luck.
OC Arthur Smith
When the Titans struggled on offense earlier this season, some of the fingers began pointing at first-year offensive coordinator Arthur Smith. Well, Smith now deserves to hear some praise. But the low-key Smith isn't looking for it – he's only concerned with dialing up winning game plans, and he's done an especially nice job of that this season. The Titans are 9-3 in their last 12 games. Smith has shown a lot of imagination calling offensive plays this season, and he produced some more dandies in Baltimore. Ryan Tannehill's deep ball to Kalif Raymond was well timed, and Henry's jump-pass was a beauty of a call as well. But Smith has played it smart in the playoffs – he's put together gameplans geared around Henry, and it's worked.
Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is a special talent. Nothing changed in my mind as a result of what we all saw on Saturday night. But the Titans – led by defensive coordinator Dean Pees -- put together a defensive plan that worked to perfection. Jackson spent a lot of time running side to side, and the defense made plays when it mattered. While Jackson threw for 365 yards on a night when the Ravens racked up 530 yards, the Titans stopped the Ravens twice on fourth and short, forced three turnovers, and they sacked Jackson four times. Defensive lineman Jurrell Casey recorded two sacks and was especially disruptive. Players made plays up front, and in the secondary, while frustrating the Ravens, and knocking them out of the playoffs.
Derrick Henry was six years old in 2000, and he was starting high school in 2008. In those years, the Titans suffered two excruciating playoff losses to Baltimore. Heck, A.J. Brown was three years old when Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis did his dance in the end zone after a game-sealing pick-6 in the 2000 season's playoffs in Nashville. Brown was just nine when the Ravens twisted running back Chris Johnson's ankle in the pile in 2008, another time when the top-seeded Titans went home early, as the No.1 seed. This year's Titans can't ease the pain that lingers from players on those Titans teams. Both were missed opportunities for Super Bowl trips, and potential titles. But for the hard-core Titans fans, it must feel sweet to know Ravens fans are feeling as miserable as they did years ago. At M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore last night, Titans fans celebrated like it was 1999.
Players Stepping Up
The Titans leaned on receiver A.J. Brown all season, but it was another quiet night for the rookie, who had just one catch for nine yards. Receiver Corey Davis had the three-yard touchdown catch from Henry on the jump pass, but that was it. So what happened on Saturday night? Tight end Jonnu Smith made a spectacular 12-yard touchdown catch to give the Titans an early lead and the speedy Raymond ran under a deep ball from Tannehill for a 45-yard touchdown catch. For the second game in a row, Tannehill threw for under 100 yards – 88 to be exact. But the Titans did enough on offense to win, thanks to players stepping up. And Tannehill made some clutch throws - and a nifty goalline run - when it mattered most.
I mentioned the defensive plan earlier. But let's take a closer look at the impact the Titans secondary made. Cornerback Logan Ryan led the defense with 13 tackles, including one for a loss. Safety Kevin Byard was next with 11 stops, plus an interception and a pass breakup. Safety Kenny Vaccaro had a pick, too, along with five stops and a quarterback hit. Cornerback Adoree' Jackson had three breakups, and cornerback Tramaine Brock and safety Dane Cruikshank also had breakups as well. The Titans did a nice job bottling up Jackson all night, and when he threw it, the guys in the secondary made plays.
The Tennessee Titans take on the Baltimore Ravens in an AFC Divisional playoff game at M&T Bank Stadium. (Photos: Donald Page)