The Titans needed a win to get in and they got it. After a shaky start from the defense, Tennessee’s offense roared to life and carried them to a convincing 35-14 victory in Houston that included a ton of personal milestones.
The Texans were resting some key starters — including QB Deshaun Watson, WR DeAndre Hopkins, and LT Laremy Tunsil among others — but as we saw in Baltimore today, that doesn’t always mean an easy victory. After giving up the opening drive touchdown, Tennessee dominated in all facets, out-gaining Houston 467-301.
The Titans will now head to Foxborough to take on the Patriots next week after a stunning Pats loss to the Dolphins cleared room for the Chiefs to grab the 2 seed and a first round bye. New England will be forced to play on wildcard weekend for the first time in a decade.
We can get into that matchup more later, but for now let’s look at winners and losers from Titans 35, Texans 14.
Derrick Henry: Winner
Henry’s week off was exactly what the doctor ordered. He looked much more like the explosive home run threat that Titans fans have grown accustomed to watching the last couple years while piling up 211 yards on 32 carries (6.6 YPC) and 3 touchdowns. Henry clinched the 2019 NFL rushing title with his 53-yard touchdown run that sealed the Titans playoff berth in the 4th quarter.
His final stat line for the regular season will be 1,540 yards on 303 carries (5.1 YPC) and 16 touchdowns. All are career highs.
A healthy Henry makes the Titans extraordinarily dangerous in the postseason. He’s capable of taking any run to the house at any given moment.
A.J. Brown: Winner
The Titans star rookie furthered his claim for Offensive Rookie of the Year honors with a 4-catch, 124-yard, 1-touchdown performance that included two huge catches.
Brown finishes the year with 52 catches, 1,051 yards, and 8 touchdown catches, just 11 yards shy of Ernest Givins’ franchise rookie record set in 1986.
Kyler Murray and Josh Jacobs have had good seasons, but I’d have a tough time putting either of them over Brown for Offensive Rookie of the Year. The 51st overall pick is the go-to target for one of the best offenses in the league and will be making his postseason debut next weekend. It’s been a very special year for A.J. Brown.
Ryan Tannehill: Winner
The Titans are going to finish either 8th or 9th in scoring this season (depending on the Seahawks total tonight). It’s the first time the franchise has ranked higher than 14th in scoring since 2003. Making that feat even more impressive is the fact that the Titans were 26th in scoring when Tannehill took over the starting job. With Tannehill under center, Tennessee has been the 4th highest scoring offense in the league.
Tannehill’s statistical production continues to be absolutely stunning. He finished today with 198 yards on 13 of 20 passing with 2 touchdowns and no interceptions or sacks. That gave him a passer rating of 130.8, the sixth time that he’s finished a game with a passer rating north of 130 this season. Only three other quarterbacks have ever hit 130 or more six times in a season: 2011 Aaron Rodgers, 2014 Tony Romo, and 2019 Russell Wilson. It’s probably a good time to remind you that this was just Tannehill’s 10th start of the season.
His season ending stat line goes 201 for 286 (70.3%) for 2,742 yards (9.59 YPA), 22 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions and a passer rating of 117.5. The yards per attempt, completion percentage, and passer rating are all franchise records and the combination of a high completion percentage with a high yards per attempt land him in elite company per NFL.com’s Chris Wesseling.
Drew Brees raised his passer rating to career-high 116.27, but Tannehill is sitting at 117.5 with Titans in clock-killing mode.— Chris Wesseling (@ChrisWesseling) December 29, 2019
Tannehill will be first to lead in passer rating + YPA since Matt Ryan in 2016 … and first to complete 70.0% at 9.0+ YPA since Montana 30 years ago.
It is not exaggerating to say that Tannehill has played at an MVP level since taking over as the starter. Now he’ll get a chance to start his first playoff game — when the Dolphins made it in 2016, Tannehill was injured — and he’ll get to do it against an opponent he’s very familiar with. He’s 4-7 in his career against New England (which is actually much better than the average QB has fared in the past 20 years), but he’s 0-6 in Foxborough. Then again, he’s never had Derrick Henry and A.J. Brown in his corner.
Harold Landry: Loser
Landry was quiet yet again today. He finished with 2 tackles and 1 QB hit, but zero sacks. That means he’ll finish his regular season stuck on 9 sacks and on a streak of 4 straight games without a sack.
The Titans got some decent pressure at times in this game, but Landry wasn’t a part of it. They need their second year pass rusher to get his groove back as they head into the playoffs.
Derick Roberson: Winner
Meanwhile, Derick Roberson continued his late season emergence, sacking A.J. McCarron to get his total to 3 in the last two games.
I’m a big fan of this young pass rusher’s potential.
Marcus Mariota: Winner
It’s been a tough season for Mariota. No doubt about it. He’s lost his starting gig, his shot at the nine figure contract that might have come with a successful year, and he’s been forced to watch Ryan Tannehill take over and dominate in the same offense.
With all that in mind, it was good to see him get a couple snaps today. He came in for some wildcat-ish plays, the first of which ended up being a pass to A.J. Brown that put the rookie over 1,000 yards for the season.
It was kind of poetic for Mariota to throw the pass that got Brown over 1,000. Despite their relatively short background together, Brown was among the most emotional Titans when Mariota got benched. For him to reach that milestone on a pass from Marcus was a cool moment for both of them.
The other snap was a read option run that Mariota gave to Henry. The nice thing about getting those plays in today is that it gives the Patriots one more thing to prepare for as they get ready for next weekend’s game. There is no doubt in my mind that was part of the motivation for getting that package in the game today. Who knows, maybe Mariota could end up making a key play or two during the Titans playoff run.
Mike Vrabel: Winner
We talked about it before the game... there is no such thing as an automatic W in the NFL, even when the opponent is resting starters. Despite a poor first drive by the Titans defense, Vrabel’s team took care of business and put the Texans away like they should have.
Spare me the “Titans were gifted the playoffs” takes. Tennessee went 7-3 over their last 10 games and controlled their own destiny heading into this weekend. The Steelers also played against backups and lost 28-10. The Colts played the pitiful Jaguars and lost 38-20. The Raiders — who were still grasping at the slim chance of a playoff miracle heading into their game — lost to the Broncos 16-15. Tennessee took care of business when their competition didn’t. Period.
Vrabel now gets a chance to take his squad on the road to face the team he won three Super Bowls with as a player. He beat his former team 34-10 last year in Nashville, but the Patriots in the postseason are a different animal, even if they’re not playing very well right now.
Vrabel is now 18-14 as a head coach with a playoff berth. Only Matt Nagy at 20-12 has a better mark among the head coaches hired in 2018.
Titans Fans: Winners
It's been a wild season — the 2-4 start, a QB change, kicker struggles, the 7-3 close, and an offensive eruption the likes of which we haven’t seen in a looooooong time — but the Tennessee Titans have reached the playoffs for the second time in the last three years. Yes, there are still issues with this team. The defense has backslid since Malcolm Butler went down with a broken wrist in Carolina. We don’t really know how good the kicker is (Greg Joseph is still yet to attempt a field goal as a Titan). The offensive line sometimes falls apart in pass protection (though they shut out the Texans pass rush today).
Those things are all true, but this team is capable of beating anyone. The offense is outstanding and consistent, balancing an elite running back with a prolific play action pass attack. The pass rush seems to be ticking up the past couple weeks despite little production from Harold Landry. There is a chance that they get significant reinforcements in the form of Adoree’ Jackson and Adam Humphries getting healthy.
If you haven’t had fun watching this team over the past 10 weeks, you should get your pulse checked. Now buckle up for the playoffs.