In a rare turn of events, the Titans — who are in the mix for the final wildcard spot in the AFC — were left playing a week 16 game that had virtually no impact on that playoff situation. This was created by the Texans clinching the AFC South on Saturday. Likely because of that, the Titans chose to sit star running back Derrick Henry against the Saints.
The offense? Well, it wasn’t hurting without the NFL’s second leading rusher — at least early on. Ryan Tannehill found Jonnu Smith to kick off the scoring. Smith made a couple of explosive plays early on, racing to the endzone after the catch on this one to put the Titans up 7-0.
On the next drive, A.J. Brown took a reverse 49 yards to the house to make it a 14-0 lead.
It took the Saints a while to get off the bus today in Nashville, but they finally were able to late in the second quarter. A frustrating afternoon for Drew Brees started to turn around with a big play to former Titan Jared Cook over the middle. It was a busted coverage from Tennessee, and Cook ran all the way across the field, down the sideline and into the endzone.
New Orleans added to an earlier field goal, making it a 14-10 game with 2:23 to play in the first half. So after a hot start from Arthur Smith’s offense, he suddenly had some adjusting to do. The Saints defensive front whipped Tennessee during the second quarter, making things tougher on Tannehill.
The 14-10 score would hold until halftime — it didn’t hold much longer.
Alvin Kamara took a handoff 40 yards to the house to open the second half, handing the Saints their first lead of the game. The game had been feeling like it was tipping in their favor over the last quarter, and the Saints knocked the bucket over to start the third.
Arthur Smith’s offense had been missing since the opening period, and quite honestly Ryan Tannehill wasn’t helping things. Tannehill was holding the ball for too long in the pocket, resulting in plenty of hits on the quarterback for the Saints. That was also likely a result of Marshon Lattimore shadowing A.J. Brown. New Orleans had racked up five sacks by the opening minutes of the third quarter, putting the Titans’ offense to sleep for the time being.
But the Saints’ offense was alive and well. New Orleans walked down the field once again, capping another drive with an Alvin Kamara touchdown, taking us to a 24-14 score.
Finally, Tannehill found his answer. A third and one attempt from mid-field ended up going the distance. Tannehill rolled right, simply looking to move the chains. The play broke down, and Tannehill threw a dart to Tajae Sharpe. There were no Saints to be found as Sharpe sprinted untouched all the way into the endzone.
Deonte Harris recaptured momentum right back for New Orleans, returning the ball out to the 48 yard line. His returns were an issue all day for the Titans, who weren’t all that interested in changing things up to counteract his success.
A big pass play to Taysom Hill set the Saints up at the 16 going in, then Brees connected again with Jared Cook for another score. In a matter of seconds, New Orleans had regained control of this game.
After trading punts, the fourth quarter was on with the Titans facing a ten point deficit.
Tennessee turned to Dalyn Dawkins on the ground, who found a couple of first downs and the Saints’ redzone. Tannehill once again turned Tajae Sharpe’s way, who was able to pull down a really nice catch in the back of the endzone to bring the Titans back to life.
The new score was 31-28, with just over seven minutes to play.
Finally, Tennessee got the stop that they needed. But Sean Payton got tricky, dialing up a fake punt. Taysom Hill rolled right, appearing to deliver a pass on the money, but it was dropped, giving the Titans new life.
Tannehill took over at his own 38 yard line. He immediately delivered a strike to Kalif Raymond, who was filling in for an injured Corey Davis. But Raymond was hit hard immediately after the grab, dropping the ball and falling to the ground. Raymond was shaken up, and the play was ruled a catch and a fumble.
It was the defining play of the game, and could have easily been flagged.
No flag against the Saints for hit to the head... ok.— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) December 22, 2019
He is unconscious on the field and we’re going to pretend nothing happened. pic.twitter.com/fSBP6iJFlU
New Orleans recovered and took over at the Tennessee 25 and quickly scored. It was Michael Thomas finding the endzone and putting this one on ice for the Saints.
But more important than anything I just wrote, the Jets beat the Steelers today, meaning the Titans now control their playoff destiny once again. It’ll be a win-and-you’re-in situation for Tennessee, who will face the Texans in Houston to finish the season.
The Steelers will face the Ravens, who now need a loss from the Titans and a week 17 win to get back in.