HOUSTON – Playoffs? Playoffs?
The Tennessee Titans punched their ticket into the postseason here on Sunday with a 35-14 win over the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium.
The Titans will travel to Foxborough next weekend to face the New England Patriots in the first round of the playoffs. Kickoff is set for Saturday at 7:15 pm CT.
"We won the football game, and are in the tournament," Coach Mike Vrabel said. "Everything gets harder from here on out. We're going to have to go on the road in a tough environment. (The Patriots) are no strangers to winning playoff football games at home.
"I know what is ahead. We are basically walking into the viper's den. We are going to have to go on the road and beat a team that's won a lot of playoff games up there."
It will be the franchise's second playoff appearance in three seasons. In 2017, the Titans beat the Chiefs on the road in the playoff's first round before being knocked out of the postseason with a loss to the Patriots in Foxborough.
With the win, the Titans finished the season with a 9-7 mark.
"It feels great, man," defensive lineman Jurrell Casey said. "Now we get an opportunity to play for the Super Bowl, and that is what you play for.
"A lot of people counted us out on that 2-4 stretch (to start the season), but we knew what we had, and knew what we were capable of as a team. Now we are in a position to go win the whole thing."
Running back Derrick Henry ran for 211 yards and three touchdowns on 32 carries in the contest and won the NFL's rushing title in the process. Henry finished the regular season with 1,540 yards while playing in 15 games. Henry eclipsed the 100-yard mark for the sixth time this season in the contest.
"Credit to (the o-linemen), and I thank each and every one of my teammates, my coaches, trainers, and everyone who is a part of the Titans organization," Henry said. "I am just happy that we were able to get in the postseason, because that was the main goal. Any time you put the team first all the individual stuff falls in place."
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who helped turn around Tennessee's season, turned in yet another solid performance. Since Tannehill stepped in at Week 7, the Titans have posted a 7-3 mark.
Tannehill, who threw for 198 yards and two touchdowns on Sunday, finished the 2019 season as the NFL's highest-rated passer with a rating of 117.5. His 117.5 passer rating was the best in franchise history, surpassing Steve McNair's 100.4 passer rating in 2003.
Also, Tannehill established the fourth-highest single-season passer rating in NFL history. His 117.5 passer rating is surpassed in league annals by only Aaron Rodgers' 122.5 passer rating in 2011, Peyton Manning's 121.1 in 2004 and Nick Foles' 119.2 in 2013.
Receiver A.J. Brown went over the 1,000-yard receiving mark in his rookie season, and he finished with 1,051 on the season. He became the franchise's first rookie to have five 100-yard receiving games since Bill Groman in 1960.
It all added up to a big win for the Titans, who entered the day with a win-and-in playoff scenario.
Up 14-7 at halftime, the Titans took the opening drive of the second half and produced a 78-yard scoring drive that was capped off with a three-yard touchdown run by Henry. It was a big drive that featured all runs, including seven from Henry.
After the Texans answered back with a long scoring drive of their own, cutting the lead to 21-14 with 1:09 left in the third quarter on a one-yard by quarterback AJ McCarron, who started in place of regular Texans starter Deshaun Watson, the Titans stepped up again.
Henry finished off a five-play 75-yard scoring drive with another one-yard score, which was set up by a 47-yard pass from Tannehill to Brown, who made a remarkable catch at the one-yard line to set up the score to make it 28-14.
Then, a 53-yard touchdown run by Henry with 2:54 remaining in the game set off a celebration on the Tennessee sideline, and in the stands. It sparked chants of "Henry, Henry, Henry" as the Titans opened up the lead to 35-14.
The Titans fell down early before rallying.
The Titans took a 14-7 in the second quarter that ended with a one-yard touchdown pass from Tannehill to tight end MyCole Pruitt and included a lot.
On the 16-play, 90-yard drive,. Brown went over the 1,000-yard mark for the season – on a 24-yard completion from quarterback Marcus Mariota -- who entered the game for one play.
The Titans jumped on the scoreboard on their first possession on a 51-yard touchdown pass from Tannehill to Brown, who caught the ball and outraced defenders to the end zone to tie the game.
It was a big early answer, coming less than two minutes after the Texans jumped out to a 7-0 lead early on a one-yard touchdown run by Duke Johnson, which capped off a 15-play, 75-yard drive.
By finishing with a 9-7 mark, the team finished with a winning record for the fourth season in a row.
But now the eyes are on something much bigger.
"We got the job done today, no matter what it took," cornerback Logan Ryan said. "We wanted to get in the race, and we wanted to control our destiny and we were able to do that.
"Now we face New England, the defending Super Bowl champs. It's a tough test, but we are excited. … I love this team, and we've stuck together all season. We are playing well, but we know we have to play even better."
The Tennessee Titans take on the Houston Texans in Sunday's Week 17 matchup at NRG Stadium. (Photos: Donald Page)