The Tennessee Titans concluded their regular season today, courtesy of a 28-25 win over the Houston Texans. The win pushed the Titans’ record to 12-5, and also gave the team the top seed in the AFC playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Winners and losers will be found here, so let’s get right into it.
Loser: The Titans’ killer instinct
With a 21 point halftime lead, and a run game that was easily churning out tough yards, the Titans looked like they were going to cruise to an easy victory today.
But then the second half happened, a half that made the palms of Titans fans begin to pour out sweat by the bucket load. Offensively, the Titans didn’t muster a single second half first down until the 10 minute mark of the 4th quarter. Defensively, Davis Mills and Danny Amendola combined to terrorize the Titans’ banged up secondary.
I know that sounds simple in nature, but that’s exactly what occurred throughout most of the second half. Stagnant offensive play and surprisingly poor defensive play by Mike Vrabel and the Titans.
It didn’t cost them in the end, but you have to call out the team’s lack of killer instinct to put the game away when it was deep in the bag.
I’m sure the Titans will celebrate the win and look forward to a week of rest and recovery. But for future purposes, that killer instinct can’t be lost during a postseason tournament that’s about as ruthless and unforgiving as any other postseason that’s tied to professional sports.
Sweet revenge: Zach Cunningham
Lost in all of the top seed madness, was the fact that today’s game marked Cunningham’s first game back in Houston since being released by the team earlier this season.
Cunningham might’ve not had revenge on his mind, but it was certainly a chance for the former Texan to show his old team what they missed out on. Cunningham finished with nine tackles today, including an impressive tackle for loss in which he physically escorted a Texans skill player to the turf.
He played a great game, and showed why he’s going to be on this Titans team for the foreseeable future. The Titans are going to need his tone setting play, as the AFC playoff field is full of teams that employ their own physical mantra. If Cunningham can stay on top of things throughout the playoffs, then this Titans defense will start to open even more eyes, but this time on one of the biggest stages the NFL has to offer.
Also, sweet revenge: D’Onta Foreman
Also, lost in the fold was the “revenge” factor for D’Onta Foreman.
Foreman started his career as a Texan in 2017, but was eventually released by the team in the middle of the 2018 season. Fast forward to today, and Foreman had a chance to show who he was, while standing as the lead back for the AFC leading Titans.
He didn’t finish with overwhelming stats — just 69 yards on 21 carries, with most of his success coming in the first half — but he ended up contributing to a win the Titans needed in the worst way.
Who knows if Foreman really had revenge on his mind coming into today’s game, but he paid his dues towards a big time win, something I’m sure he’s happy with.
Winner: Julio Jones
It’s been a disappointing season for Jones.
He’s dealt with a number of hamstring issues, his impact on the field has almost been nonexistent at times, and his season long statistical output is going to go down as the worst of his historic, illustrious career.
But when the team needed him most today, he delivered in a big time way.
Jones finished with five catches for 68 yards and a touchdown, the first touchdown he’s scored as a member of the Titans. But most importantly, he was involved early and often, something that set the tone for how his day was going to go.
When Jones has struggled this season, it’s because he’s either been hurt, or he hasn’t found a way to contribute early in games. Part of the latter has occurred because he’s struggled to find a decent, consistent connection with Ryan Tannehill. But that wasn’t the case today, as Tannehill voluntarily looked to throw him the ball early, and the results followed.
If Jones has stay healthy, and the Titans can find ways to give him the ball early — which they’ll have to do if they want to make their trip in the playoffs an extended one — then negative fallback of this trade won’t seem so hefty once the season ends.
Winner: Ryan Tannehill
Tannehill hasn’t had it easy this season.
He’s been forced to work through games despite the absences of Julio Jones and A.J. Brown at times, his offensive line has failed to keep him off the ground, and injuries have decimated multiple key pieces around him aside from Brown and Jones.
But with most of his weapons back and ready to roll, Tannehill has thrived as a result. His performance against the Texans today proved that even further.
Tannehill played his best game of the season today, throwing for 287 yards and four touchdowns. He avoided the dangerous throws that have plagued him this year — for the most part — and even connected on some impressive throws down the field, something we haven’t seen him do often this season.
However, the most impressive play of his day came in the second half, when the Titans were on the verge of blowing their 21 point lead. Tannehill avoided a sack on a key third down, escaped the pocket, and threw a dart to Nick Westbrook-Ikhine for a big time first down.
It was an improbable play, one that likely saved the Titans from completely sweating it out until the end,
Tannehill hasn’t been dealt the best of hands this season. But he now has most of his weapons back, with another one — and perhaps the most important one — on tap to return in time for the Titans’ first playoff game. It’s Tannehill’s time to shine, and show the football world he isn’t the liability some make him out to be.
Rookie headaches: Elijah Molden
Molden has fought to turn his season around after a rough start to the year.
And to his credit, he’s done just that. He’s proven to be a somewhat reliable nickel corner when the matchup is right, and even as a safety option in specific defensive packages.
But today, he was reminded once again why most rookie seasons are full of ups and downs. Molden was matched up against Danny Amendola for most of the game, and boy did he get worked.
Amendola finished with 113 yards and a touchdown on 7 receptions, turning back the clock to his days in New England as a steady presence in the slot. Amendola put Molden in a multitude of bad spots as well, reminding the rookie of the ways he has to go before he can consider himself a legit NFL corner.
Molden will bounce back, but today’s performance reminded him that he still has some work to do.