The Titans lived up to their billing as the “team nobody wants to play”, but not for the reasons we expected coming in. Ryan Tannehill was held to just 72 yards on 8 of 15 passing, his lowest totals of the season by far. Today, it was Derrick Henry and the Titans defense that carried the day as Tennessee became just the fourth team to win in the playoffs in Foxborough since 2001, joining the 2009 Ravens, the 2010 Jets, and the 2012 Ravens as the only teams to win at New England in the postseason since Tom Brady and Bill Belichick started their reign.
Was it the prettiest win we’ve seen? Of course not, but there is no such thing as turning your nose up at a playoff win, much less a playoff win in New England. Here are my winners and losers from Titans 20, Patriots 13.
Derrick Henry: Winner
What a performance from King Henry on his birthday. El Tractorcito ran for 182 yards on 32 carries with another 22 yards on a screen pass. He was absolutely dominant from start to finish in this one and proved exactly how valuable he is to this team.
I’m not typically a “pay the running backs” guy, but I’d have to make an exception for King Henry. He’s in a league of his own and this game proved that.
Ryan Tannehill: Loser
Tannehill played his worst game here, going 8 of 15 for 72 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception against the Patriots. It didn’t end up making a difference, but the Titans will need more from their QB to advance in the subsequent rounds.
Anthony Firkser: Winner
The two biggest catches of the game both belonged to the former Harvard fullback, playing back in the New England area. He snagged an early touchdown and then grabbed a crucial late 3rd down conversion to help seal the win.
That Harvard education will get you 6! #TENvsNE pic.twitter.com/87EusgZ9aV— Tennessee Titans (@Titans) January 5, 2020
In a game that lacked the Titans usual firepower on offense, Firkser proved to be the difference between a first round exit and a win over the defending champs.
As the founder of the FirkHeads, this game has brought great honor to my family and joy to my heart.
A.J. Brown & Corey Davis: Losers
If you’d told me before the game that Brown and Davis were going to combine for one catch and four yards, I would have virtually guaranteed a loss. The Titans top two receivers struggled against the league’s best secondary. That was to be expected to some degree, but they’ll need to be much better next week if the Titans want to win in Baltimore.
Logan Ryan: Winner
Logan Ryan missed an opportunity for a pick-6 just before halftime, but he capitalized on his second chance at the end of regulation, picking off a tipped pass and running it in to clinch a victory over his former team.
That had to feel incredible for a guy who was drafted in New England, won a Super Bowl there, and then signed with the Titans in 2017. He’s been outstanding all year and his fifth pick of the season will easily be his most memorable.
Kenny Vaccaro: Winner
Vaccaro was outstanding in this game both as a run defender and in pass coverage.
Kenny Vaccaro wreaking havoc @KennyVaccaro4 pic.twitter.com/fUQMFFvBss— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) January 5, 2020
He plays with an energy that is infectious to the rest of this defense. That kind of stuff matters, even if it will never show up on a stat sheet.
DaQuan Jones: Winner
The Titans got some massive stops in this game and Jones was at the center of one of them. With the Pats leading 10-7 towards the end of the first quarter, Jones made a fantastic tackle to stop a Patriots run on 2nd and goal.
What a goal line stand by the @Titans pic.twitter.com/8GWBDKd1R9— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) January 5, 2020
DaQuan has been underrated for years and this game was a testament to his value.
Jeffery Simmons: Winner
Speaking of big guys making big plays, Titans rookie Jeffery Simmons created big time movement on the line of scrimmage on that same stand and helped stop the Patriots on what turned out to be one of the biggest series of the game.
Rashaan Evans: Winner
Evans benefited from some good play by Jones and Simmons in front of him, but he was absolutely outstanding in this game, especially on that critical goal line series.
Rashaan Evans with the jump tackle @616evans4 pic.twitter.com/28B190vJum— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) January 5, 2020
Evans came up huge when the Titans needed him.
Adoree’ Jackson: Winner
The Titans getting Adoree’ Jackson back for this game was a huge deal. He had a massive PBU on a third down and generally contributed to Tennessee’s outstanding defensive effort.
Jackson is the Titans best cover corner and his presence matters for this defense.
Rodger Saffold: Winner
Rarely do offensive linemen separate themselves enough on the TV angles for inclusion in this piece, but Saffold was a monster in this game.
Will add this for a Visual!!— Shaun O'Hara (@ShaunOHara60) January 5, 2020
LG #76 w/ The Finish!! @Titans #TENvsNE pic.twitter.com/KDissOyA9b
He was brought in to help Taylor Lewan form a dominant left side and that’s exactly what he’s done in recent weeks. It’s officially time to put to rest any early season gripes about Saffold. He’s been outstanding in recent weeks.
Tramaine Brock: Winner
The Titans defense was outstanding for much of this game, particularly the second half. If we’re going to credit a Ryan for the pick six to seal it, we need to give some props to Brock, who got his hand in and deflected the pass into Ryan’s path. Brock has took a little while to settle in, but he’s been good in recent weeks.
Mike Vrabel: Winner
Vrabel goes to 2-0 against Bill Belichick, matches Mike Mularkey’s two year results (at least), and moves to 9-0 in playoff games in Foxborough. He did it with a well-managed game that included Vrabel taking advantage of a loophole in clock management that Belichick exploited earlier this season.
What Mike Vrabel just did to the #Patriots.... Bill Belichick did it earlier this season to the #Jets and it led to this amazing smirk.— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) January 5, 2020
Belichick said it's a loophole in the rulebook that "probably should be closed but right now it’s open."pic.twitter.com/07JNjqfcnO
Vrabel didn’t get an A game from the offense this week, but he helped make it not matter by taking over a minute and a half off the clock thanks to his knowledge of the rules. This was a big time win for the Titans second year coach.
Dean Pees: Winner
The Titans defensive coordinator has taken some heat in recent weeks after his defense took some steps back, but this was a vintage Titans defense performance. The Patriots gained just 307 total yards and went 5 of 13 on 3rd downs.
This wasn’t the best Pats offense, but the Titans defense shut them out after halftime, allowing no drive longer than six plays against his former team after the break. Pees remains one of the best in the business and he’ll get a chance to take on another former team of his next week.
Brett Kern: Winner
The best punter in the league made one of the best punts the league will ever see given the circumstances. With 25 seconds left, Kern booted a punt that not only ran the clock down, but rolled perfectly to the 1-yard line, leaving the Pats with 99 yards to go to win the game.
Kern is a superstar and that punt was unbelievably clutch.
Jon Robinson: Winner
This was a banner game for GM Jon Robinson. The Titans were led by one of Robinson’s first draft picks in Derrick Henry. They got huge contributions from free agent additions Logan Ryan, Rodger Saffold, and Kenny Vaccaro. He had a goal line stand engineered by a guy he re-signed (DaQuan Jones) and two guys he drafted in the first round (Rashaan Evans and Jeffery Simmons). It was all quarterbacked by a guy he traded a fourth round pick for nine months ago.
This was a win for the “Titans way”. Forget New England and all their success. The Titans realize that this is a different program and have operated with that mindset.
The NFL: Winner
Listen... all due respect and all that, but nobody wanted another Patriots Super Bowl, at least not with this team. So you’re welcome, NFL. The Titans slayed the dragon, so now you’re free to dream of all the Lamar Jackson-Patrick Mahomes Super Bowl scenarios your heart desires. Just remember to leave a little space in your heart for the Ryan Tannehill winning a Super Bowl in Miami story line that us Titans fans would love to see.