Welcome to the eight edition of the chronologically incorrect Classic Titans Games. I am currently writing this at about 1am eastern time and feel like I’m going to pass out at any given moment so let’s hope I am able to schedule this article before that happens.
Anyway, this edition of CTG takes place in the 1999 AFC Divisional Round, January 16th, 2000, as the Titans faced what would be a future AFC South foe; The Colts, then a member of the AFC East. The Titans came off a pretty boring win against the Bills the previous week, while the 13-3 Colts were hosting the game coming off a first round bye and a breakout season from second year starter Peyton Manning.
(These were the good old days before Andrew Luck decided to make Titans fans miserable with his presence, but Manning was no slouch either, as we can now see in retrospect he is one of the greatest players in NFL history.)
Both teams were 13-3 and were looking to face the Jaguars in the AFC Championship. What followed was a game that further confirmed the football gods were located in Nashville.
Both teams traded away punts on their opening drives, and then the Colts drove to the Titans’ 23, where idiot kicker Mike Vanderjagt nailed a 40-yard field goal to give Indianapolis a 3-0 lead. And for the first time in what seems like forever in a CTG writeup, the Titans offense did not respond with points, punting the ball back to the Colts.
But the Titans defense forced a three and out, and thanks to a face mask penalty and this 15-yard pass from Steve McNair to Music City Miracle legend Kevin Dyson, the Titans got to the Indianapolis 31, as Al Del Greco kicked a 49-yard field goal on the first play of the second quarter to tie things up at 3.
Both teams traded punts again, and just like before the Colts put together a field goal drive to take back the lead at 6-3. This time, however, the Titans responded with a drive of their own.
Aided by a 29-yard scramble from McNair on 3rd and 6, the Titans tied the game 6-6 with a 37-yard field goal from Del Greco. But the Colts struck back with yet another field goal drive, taking a 9-6 lead entering the half.
Stalled by the Colts defense throughout the first half, the Titans needed an answer and needed an answer fast. Fortunately, that’s where Eddie George came in.
On the third play of the opening drive of the second half, George took the handoff from McNair and went 68 yards for the touchdown as the Titans took a 13-9 lead. This was by far the longest run of George’s playoff career, and if you want to know what his second longest was, that was 17 yards in the 2002 AFC Championship Game.
The two teams traded back-to-back-to-back punts (so many backs that Chris Berman is having trouble keeping up) before George got things started with an 11-yard run on the first play of the Titans’ ensuing drive. McNair took over for the rest of the drive, connecting with receiver Chris Sanders twice for big gains while also converting a 3rd and 5 with his feet. The offense could not get the ball into the end zone, but Del Greco’s 25-yard field goal extended Tennessee’s lead to 16-9.
The Colts had a top five offense heading into the postseason, so it was only a matter of time before they could finally reach the end zone. Or so we thought. As the game entered the fourth quarter, the football gods emerged and helped Tennessee escape with some lucky breaks.
First, the Colts’ opening drive of the fourth quarter came to an end when receiver Jerome Pathon could not haul in this pass from Manning.
Second, return man Terrence Wilkins appeared to take this punt 87 yards, but a replay review revealed he just barely stepped out of bounds at the Colts’ 34.
(A rare moment where Luck helped the Titans.)
Third, while two penalties put the Colts at a 3rd and 22, this pass from Manning was good enough to convert a first down. But future Hall of Fame receiver Marvin Harrison could not secure the catch, forcing Indianapolis to punt the ball away.
The Titans’ next drive did not see a play create more than five yards, but a first down conversion from McNair and Frank Wycheck and six more yards from George put the Titans in Del Greco’s range, as he hit the 43-yarder to give the Titans insurance points with a 19-9 lead.
Another fortunate circumstance occurred in the Titans’ favor, as the Colts turned the ball over on downs after four plays thanks to a drop from Edgerrin James on 4th and 4. But a fumble from George gave the Colts the ball back with 3:11 left to go in the game.
At long last, the Colts got into the end zone off a 15-yard touchdown scramble from Manning, cutting the lead to 19-16 with two minutes left. But the onside kick was recovered by Yancey Thigpen, allowing the Titans to run the clock out and move on to their first AFC Championship Game in Nashville.
Despite being a 5.5 underdog, the Titans had pulled off the upset and handed head coach Jim Mora his fifth consecutive playoff loss and sent him to 0-5 all time in the postseason. The Steve McNair-Jeff Fisher era secured its second playoff win as well.
None of the teams allowed a single sack, though the Titans committed more penalties (9) than the Colts (7). Despite only passing for 112 yards and no touchdowns, McNair did convert a few crucial third downs and added 35 yards with his feet. Eddie George had a huge day, rushing for 162 yards on 26 carries and a touchdown.
On defense, Blaine Bishop, Jevon Kearse, and Samari Rolle each had two pass disruptions, while the run defense only allowed 78 yards (22 of them were from that late rushing touchdown from Manning, yes, Peyton Manning). The Titans offense converted three third downs on 14 attempts compared to Indianapolis’ 5 third down conversions on 15.
Can we say the Titans got away with several lucky instances in the fourth quarter? Absolutely, but a win is always welcomed, and this was a team of destiny after all. This would pave the way for greater things, as the Titans thrashed the Jaguars in the following week’s AFC Championship Game.