The Titans had ran right through the Patriots and the Ravens on the road to make it to the AFC Championship Game against the Chiefs. Could they do it one more time? On the road? Against another one of the NFL’s hottest offenses?
If so, it was going to take another quick start, and a steady diet of Derrick Henry. Tennessee got one of those things, at least.
Another fast start
The Titans struck first, but it was in an odd fashion — a field goal! Greg Joseph hit his first attempt as a Titan, despite being on the team for more than four weeks now. Ryan Tannehill found rookie receiver A.J. Brown for the big gain to get into Chiefs’ territory, but the drive stalled out in the redzone, a rare thing for this team.
So while it wasn’t quite the quick start Mike Vrabel had in mind, it was still a 3-0 lead. I’d imagine he felt a little better about that start after seeing the three and out his defense produced on the first drive. Patrick Mahomes was sacked, then threw short of Travis Kelce, forcing the first punt of the day.
Derrick Henry went to work. Four, five and ten yard gains fired this drive up. A fourth down conversion to Adam Humphries kept the drive alive as Mike Vrabel set the tone early on. Tannehill found Jonnu Smith off play-action to get down to the four, then Henry punched it in out of the wildcat on the next play.
Tennessee led 10-0 after two drives.
Chiefs respond — and Mahomes changes the game.
On Mahomes’ second drive, he was able to put a few things together. A broken play to Tyreek Hill was the big-gainer. Travis Kelce worked against the Titans’ zone defense to keep the chains moving. Despite fairly consistent pressure, Mahomes was able to find some openings in this defense.
Andy Reid dialed up a jet sweep to Hill to cap the drive, bringing us to 10-7 with under a minute to play in the first quarter.
Arthur Smith kept going play-action on the Chiefs, dialing up a big gain to Corey Davis. Henry ripped off another 15, moving the Titans into enemy territory. Tannehill found Humphries again to move the chains on third down, then hit Brown for another.
Just as Henry gained another eight, Jack Conklin was called for a hold. What would have been 2nd and 2 from inside the ten eventually turned into 3rd and 22 from the 25. A defensive pass interference call bailed Tennessee out though, giving the Titans a new set of downs.
Henry brought the Titans back closer to the goal line, then Tannehill cashed in, finding Dennis Kelly on a play-action pass from the one. Arthur Smith started this game white hot as a play-caller — and had a 17-7 lead to show for it.
Problem was, Mahomes was white hot as well. Demarcus Robinson hauled in a big gain to start the drive, then it was Sammy Watkins moving the chains again. Two plays later, Mahomes found Hill for another score. It was a simple seam route, capping off a near instant drive for Kansas City to bring us back to a three point game.
In a spot where it felt like the Titans couldn’t afford to blink, they blinked. With four minutes on the clock, Tennessee ran twice for no gain and fell short of the sticks on a third down pass.
A punt gave Mahomes the ball with two minutes to work. Damien Williams caught two, then Kelce caught another to cross midfield. This was the danger zone for the Titans, who knew Mahomes would get the ball back after the halftime break.
Mahomes converted another third down to Watkins with the clock now under 30 seconds. The next play might have defined this game. Mahomes was just trying to get a couple of yards and get out of bounds, but when two Titan defenders whiffed, the former NFL MVP turned upfield. He broke a tackle at the five as the Titans tried to strip him, but ultimately fell into the endzone, totally changing this game.
Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games pic.twitter.com/ZC8Ts5dHqK— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) January 19, 2020
Suddenly, this game felt much different with Kansas City leading 21-17.
A 3rd quarter shutout
With a chance to really grab hold of this game, Mahomes took the field once again. But this time, Dean Pees had an answer for him. He was behind on a third down throw to Hill, forcing a punt.
The Titans went back to the run. The success was nothing special, but it was enough pick up a couple of first downs, or so it appeared. A holding call on 3rd and 1 would prove costly, bringing back a first down run by Henry.
Tennessee was forced to punt back to the Chiefs, giving them the ball back at their own 27.
Chiefs take control
Kansas City went with three straight runs to open the drive, getting a fresh set of downs to work with. Mahomes converted the next third down himself, keeping another to keep the drive alive.
The Titans’ defense looked tired. The secondary was playing well enough in coverage, but Mahomes was just crushing Tennessee with his legs. Hill caught another one to move inside of the five to end the third quarter.
Damien Williams found the endzone two snaps later. It was a 13 play drive for Kansas City that really seemed to deliver the final blow to Tennessee.
Tannehill would earn just one first down on the next drive before the Titans were forced to punt the ball away.
Mahomes officially put it away with his next chance. It was Sammy Watkins, who had a massive day, hauling in a deep pass on 3rd and 6. Watkins got behind the defense and Mahomes went over the top to put the Titans away.
Final Score: Kansas City 35, Tennessee 24
It was all too similar to last week against Houston for Kansas City — an early deficit, followed by 28 unanswered points. It was a day where you needed a truly special effort from Ryan Tannehill to keep up, because quite simply, the Chiefs were going to get theirs. Tannehill? Well, after a brilliant season, he came up short today.
It was a pretty average day for Tannehill, who wasn’t able to carry the offense once the flow of the game took Henry out of the offense. You’ve got to tip your cap to the Kansas City defense, too. After the first quarter, they really were able to bottle up Henry and put the game on Tannehill’s shoulders.
It’s tough to be too upset with the overall result. The Titans were left for dead by everyone, myself included, sitting at 2-4. They battled back, caught fire, beat the Patriots and Ravens on the road, and ran into a buzzsaw in Kansas City.
Now begins an absolutely fascinating offseason, filled with a couple of massive decisions.