By John Glennon
In the eyes of Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill, the play unfolded in what seemed like slow motion.
He saw running back Derrick Henry leap over a defender at the 25-yard line and then watched Ravens safety DeShon Elliott line him up for a wicked hit.
“It was like time slowed down,” Tannehill said. “I was thinking `No’ as I saw (Henry) coming down. It’s a tough situation to be in when you’re in the air like that and a guy coming at you.”
Sure enough, Elliott delivered a punishing shot to Henry as the Titans’ big back fell to his knees, leaving Henry as stunned – and as shaken up – as any hit he’d taken in recent memory. Elliott stood over Henry woofing after the play, just before Henry walked awkwardly away – then bent over at his waist once he reached the sideline.
The Ravens led 21-10 at that point – still early in the third quarter – and looked as if they might have just delivered a knockout blow to the Titans.
“That one definitely hurt,” Henry said. “It caught me under the chin. It stung for a little while. But I had to let it go. Shake it off, get back in there.”
Sure enough, Henry not only returned to the game seconds later but bounced back better than ever. Held to just 44 yards on 15 carries at the moment of injury, Henry proceeded to rumble through the Ravens for 84 yards on his next 13 carries – a total that included his game-ending 29-yard touchdown run in overtime.
“That’s football,” Henry said. “We get hit. (There are) going to be games like this, but I just had to get back in there and help my way.”
It was that kind of game overall for the Titans, who absorbed one haymaker after another from a Ravens team bent on gaining revenge for last season’s playoff loss. But despite trailing by 11 points in the third quarter, despite playing short-handed, and despite losing even more players – like linebacker Jayon Brown and starting left tackle Ty Sambrailo – to injury, the Titans bounced back to earn a critical 30-24 victory.
The outcome was vital to a Titans team that had lost three of its last four games after a 5-0 start, a team that could have been in deep trouble with a loss – and a visit to Indianapolis next Sunday. But like Henry, the Titans righted themselves quickly, scoring 20 of the game’s final 24 points to beat a 6-3 team that was also desperately chasing a playoff spot.
“We talked about it all week, (the AFC) is packed in there, and we are going to have to start doing things that will break us away from the pack,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. “Today was a great step, it was a great team win. I am proud to be these guys’ coach and thankful as we approach Thanksgiving. Thankful to be their football coach.”
Here are nine other takeaways from the Titans’ second win at Baltimore in the calendar year:
The fun starts after Brown catches the ball — Even as a rookie, the Titans wide receiver was something to behold after he caught the ball, as he averaged 8.9 yards after the catch in 2019 – tops in the league among receivers with at least 30 receptions.
Things haven’t changed much this year, as Brown illustrated on one of the more unlikely touchdown catches of the NFL season. With the Titans – trailing 21-16 – facing third-and-10 from the Ravens’ 14, Brown caught a slant pass at about the Baltimore 9-yard line. He proceeded to break the tackles of three Ravens’ defenders – Marcus Peters, Chuck Clark and Marlon Humphrey – before overpowering linebacker Patrick Queen to score.
The NFL’s Next Gen Stats gave Brown’s catch just an 11.1 percent chance at resulting in a touchdown, and noted that Brown’s 373 yards after the catch — over expected — since 2019 is tops in the NFL.
“My mindset was to get the first down,” Brown said. “I was going to try to run through the catch. As soon as I caught the ball, (a defender) came down and hit me. But I knew I had to get a first down. We needed a touchdown, not a field goal.
“I was trying to do whatever it took to get the first down, and I looked up and (realized), ‘Oh, I’m about to score.’ My teammates did a good job of pushing me in the back to keep me going and keep my momentum going forward.”
A special season — Titans wide receiver Corey Davis topped the 100-yard receiving mark for the third time in eight games this season, finishing with five catches for 113 yards. The 2017 first-round draft pick had only topped 100 yards twice in his three previous seasons combined.
It’s turning into quite a season for Davis, who totaled 101 yards against Denver and 128 against Cincinnati earlier this year. This is the fourth and final season of Davis’ contract, as the Titans declined to pick up his fifth-year option in the spring. It will be interesting to see if the Titans try to sign him to a new deal during this season or prior to free agency.
Davis played Sunday for the second time since his older brother, Titus, died at the age of 27 due to a rare form of kidney cancer. The brothers were very close, and Corey Davis wears the same No. 84 that Titus did when he played at Central Michigan.
An emotional Davis spoke Sunday about what the support of the Titans’ organization has meant to him.
“The support has been unbelievable,” Davis said. “You can tell a lot about this team, not just on the field, just outside of football. Pretty much everyone reached out to me, coaches and obviously players … telling me they were thinking about me and my family, and they were praying for us. That goes a long way, knowing the other guys got my back on and off the field and got my family’s back. It means a lot.’
“We had a tragic loss in our family. My brother was everything to me. We are going to miss him dearly.”
Chirpy, chatty and chippy — The fact the Titans had beaten the Ravens in Baltimore during last season’s playoffs only added to the nastiness in this rivalry.
The emotions first became apparent before the contest, when Titans players – as is their custom during most road games – stood on Baltimore’s midfield logo and pumped themselves up. Ravens coach John Harbaugh appeared to take issue, as he approached the Titans players and exchanged words with Titans cornerback Malcolm Butler. Seconds later, Vrabel arrived on the scene, as well as officials and more players. No penalty flags were thrown.
But later in the contest, cameras caught Jackson delivering a blindside bump to Butler following a Ravens touchdown. Then came the end of the game, when Vrabel chose to celebrate with his players on the field before shaking hands with Harbaugh.
“I went to celebrate with (Henry) and congratulate him, and then I ran back and shook (Harbaugh’s) hand,” Vrabel said. “I asked what the issue was before the game and he said there wasn’t an issue. So, I wanted to celebrate with my football team.”
Said Harbaugh: “After the game, there wasn’t an issue. Coach Vrabel, I think, was down there celebrating in the end zone, and then he came back around and shook hands. (What happened) before the game is irrelevant.”
Captain Comeback — The victory marked the league-leading fifth time this season – in 10 starts – that Tannehill had engineered a game-winning drive. He’d never had more than three in a single season before this year.
Tannehill was excellent down the stretch. In the Titans’ 10-play, 90-yard drive that put the team up 24-21, he scrambled 12 yards for one first down and connected with Davis on a 22-yard completion. In the overtime session, Tannehill drove the Titans 73 yards in six plays for the victory. He went three-for-three on the drive, hitting Davis for 14 yards, Davis again for 11 yards and Brown for 11 yards.
After throwing for just 158 and 147 yards in the Titans’ last two games, Tannehill totaled 259 passing yards and two touchdowns against Baltimore. He also added four carries for 35 yards – and ran for a vital two-point conversion.
His good numbers came on a day Tannehill took some punishment from the Ravens. He was sacked twice and hit seven times – three by Baltimore’s Matthew Judon.
“Can’t say enough about (Tannehill’s toughness),” Vrabel said. “It wasn’t perfect. I know there were some throws he’d like to have back. We want to keep him clean, but he stands in there and delivers the ball, doesn’t flinch, and I love that that he is our quarterback and I get to go to work with him every day.”
The defense did what it had to — The Titans’ red-zone defense has been a major weakness all season, as the team entered Sunday’s contest allowing touchdowns on nearly 75 percent of opponents’ possessions – the fifth-worst figure in the league.
But the Titans frustrated the Ravens in the red zone, holding Baltimore to field goals on three-of-four trips inside Tennessee’s 20-yard line. The most important stop came in the game’s closing seconds, with the Ravens at the Titans’ 10 – and looking for a game-winning touchdown. The Titans forced back-to-back incompletions, forcing a field goal that sent the game into overtime.
Once into overtime, the Titans’ defense immediately came up with another big stop. Harold Landry’s nine-yard sack of Jackson on second down put Baltimore in a hole it couldn’t get out of, and the Ravens went three-and-out – leading to the Titans’ winning touchdown.
“Huge, I mean huge,” Vrabel said of the key defensive stops. “We just kept chipping away at it … I thought we executed the keys. We could always be better on third downs, but when you can make them kick field goals in the red zone, you have a chance.”
The special teams stood out … for good reason — The Titans’ special teams had come under plenty of criticism in recent weeks, after a slew of mistakes including a blocked punt, shanked punt and multiple missed field goals.
But give the special teams credit following Sunday’s victory.
The most memorable special-teams play occurred late in the second quarter, with the Titans facing fourth-and-7 at the Tennessee 49-yard line. The Titans snuck back-up quarterback Logan Woodside into one of the punt-protection positions. He took a short snap, rolled to his right and drilled a perfect pass to Nick Westbrook-Ikhine for a seven-yard gain and a first down. The second catch of Westbrook-Ikhine’s professional career kept alive a drive that eventually led to a Titans field goal just before the half.
“All of those decisions always come down to execution,” Vrabel said. “The decision to fake the punt was only a good decision because Logan and the punt team and Nick made it a good decision, and that his how this thing goes.”
Then there was kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who’d made only 12-of-20 field-goal attempts coming into the contest. Even worse, he was just six-of-13 from inside of 50 yards. But Gostkowski was as reliable as could be, connecting on three-of-three field-goal attempts – all coming from 40 yards or closer. He also produced five touchbacks on seven kick-offs.
Punter Trevor Daniel, who had that critical shank in his first appearance for the Titans, averaged 46.5 net yards on a pair of punts.
Tough decision proves correct — With the Titans trailing 21-13 early in the fourth quarter, the team found itself facing fourth-and-two at the Ravens’ 4-yard line. Vrabel had to decide whether to go for it on fourth down — which could have led to a touchdown and game-tying, two-point conversion – or to kick the field goal.
He opted for the latter, sending Gostkowski on to trim the Ravens’ lead to 21-16. Vrabel’s decision paid dividends when the Titans stopped Baltimore’s next drive and punted the ball away with just under eight minutes left in the fourth quarter. Tennessee had plenty of time left for a touchdown drive.
“With it being eight points and knowing we may be able to get it to off schedule – with not having to score and have a two-point conversion …” Vrabel said of his decision to kick. “The fourth-and-two probably played a little something into it, but just felt like the way our defense had been playing, and the fact that we could get it down there to where we could score and have the lead – kind of play out like it did – was really the reason.”
Another significant loss — As if the Titans didn’t already have injury issues coming into the game, they suffered another significant injury when Jayon Brown landed awkwardly after getting clipped by Ravens guard Ben Powers.
Brown tried to brace his fall with his left hand, but his elbow appeared to bend in the wrong direction when he hit the ground. He left the game immediately, and the NFL Network later reported that Brown had suffered both an elbow dislocation and a fracture – injuries that will cause him to miss the rest of the season.
Coming into the game against Baltimore, Brown had played 97 percent of the team’s defensive snaps, and he led the Titans with 73 tackles – including 43 solo stops. The versatile Brown is in the fourth and final season of his contract.
The Titans also lost Sambrailo late in the game, as he hobbled off the field. That meant an appearance for former practice-squad member David Quessenberry, who was the team’s third tackle – ahead of first-round draft pick Isaiah Wilson.