I caught up with Titans TE Anthony Firkser this morning fresh off a MASSIVE playoff victory over the New England Patriots in which he contributed with the team’s first offensive touchdown of the 2020 playoffs.
We broke down the play that lead to that touchdown, how Mike Vrabel prepared the team for a playoff game at Gillette Stadium, the Baltimore Ravens and more.
JM: Congratulations on the big touchdown catch.
AF: Thank you so much. It felt good to make a big play for my team.
JM: It came immediately after Patrick Chung left the game with an injury and was replaced by Terrence Brooks. Did you guys decide to test him there?
AF: I don’t necessarily think so. We knew that Chung was a big part of their defense of course. He does a lot of the little things for them. We scrolled down our call sheet and took a look at where we were on the field. We understood the situation and the down and distance. We just made that call. I saw man coverage and I was able to slip by him. Ryan [Tannehill] made a great throw and I just had to make sure I caught it.
JM: I’m gonna throw some notes at you here. Arthur Smith dials up four verticals there. You motion Tajae Sharpe and his man follows him, confirming that the Patriots are in man coverage. The outside corner and the field safety are either in man coverage or they’re playing first in/first out. The out-breaking receiver is either taken by the outside corner and the in-breaking receiver is taken by the inside safety. For me, the switch release between yourself and Corey Davis, Arthur Smith might wanna test Brooks there. He knows that the point corner is gonna play man on Davis. That crossing route tests the safety’s eyes and your route put him in a tough spot. You widened him a little, and he’s finished once he opens up his hips. You crossed his face and you’re wide open.
AF: Yeah, that’s very accurate. Do you want me to pass on your resume to Arthur Smith? [laughs]. We knew they were gonna get on Corey and press him. With the safety over the top, we usually get that look with the switch release. They’re paying attention to that out-breaker and I was able to slip inside the seam because the safety wasn’t there at the middle of the field either.
JM: You made a big catch late in the fourth quarter as well on a third down that helped you guys continue to milk the clock. You made two of the biggest plays in this game. I’m a firm believer that football teams win and lose games as a team, but that fumble against Houston may have been a little tough for you to swallow. Things happen, but I imagine it felt pretty good to make those plays Saturday night.
AF: Yeah, maybe a little. That was a tough break. I felt bad for the team of course because of the impact that play had on the game. It was so unfortunate and I have do a better job next time. I tried to move on and forget about that play. I can’t dwell on that while I’m out there. You can’t be reminded of the negative plays while on the field. But yeah, it felt good to make a contribution. I played a role in a great team win. It’s nice to see your hard work pay off. Everyone played a huge role in that game. The way Derrick [Henry] was running the ball, the offensive line, the defense made some big plays and stopped Tom Brady. It was an awesome game all-around.
FIRST DOWN TITANS!— PFF (@PFF) January 5, 2020
Ryan Tannehill in clutch time
JM: I’m sure you know this by now, but you’re the first player from Harvard to score a touchdown in an NFL playoff game.
AF: Yeah, I started hearing that one a little after the game. I didn’t realize that until I was told during an interview after the game. It’s a pretty cool accomplishment. I think I was just fortunate to be in that situation. A lot of good players have come out of Harvard, some of which are still playing today. It just kinda happened that way.
JM: You and I have spoken in the past about your journey up until this point. You were cut a few times after entering the league as an un-drafted free agent. Going from that to making history, that’s really something.
AF: Yeah, my past up until this point was definitely a little rocky and you certainly start questioning some things. It felt like I was cut 200 times before I landed here (laughs). There were definitely some doubts about my long-term future. I decided to keep pushing and work harder. It feels great to compete at this level. I’m gonna try and continue to improve.
JM: It’s pretty funny that the first time a touchdown is scored in the playoffs by a Harvard alum happens to occur in Boston against the New England Patriots.
AF: Yeah, it’s pretty cool that it occurred in Boston. I had a bunch of family in town and in attendance at the game. They all got to watch the game live and be there for that moment. It was such a cool environment and atmosphere to be a part of. It was a big time game and it all worked out for us.
JM: Tell me a little about the mental toughness this team possesses. Winning a playoff game at Gillette Stadium isn’t something many teams can boast about doing over the last 20 years or so.
AF: We knew it was gonna be a hostile argument. Mike Vrabel does a great job preparing us for what it takes to beat the Patriots. We were able to do it last year at home as well. This was a playoff game so it was totally different. We knew they were a tough team and they’ve been doing this for a number of years. It’s another day at the office for them. Everyone had to be on point and execute the game plan. We were able to do that and come out on top.
JM: What was the message from him like throughout the week?
AF: Above all, he wanted us to be mentally and physically prepared. We all felt good about the game plan. The offense felt good, the defense was especially confident as well. We were able to get our bodies right and execute the fine details.
JM: I imagine that you enjoyed it for a day or two, but the focus quickly shifted to the Baltimore Ravens.
AF: Yeah, definitely. We’ve started looking at them and game planning a little bit. We’re getting our bodies back to normal and we’re ready to move onto next week.
JM: In closing, how similar is the message from Vrabel this week? You face a huge challenge ahead of you.
AF: I think we’re gonna stick to what’s been working. We had a great run towards the end of the season with a couple of tough losses sandwiched in-between there to Houston and New Orleans. We pulled out a great team victory on Saturday. Vrabel is getting us prepared for this. We know what it takes to understand the game plan. We have to execute it and win the ball game.
JM: Which means give the ball to Henry 375 times?
AF: Yeah, something like that (laughs). He’s been doing an amazing job. The offensive line is playing at an incredibly high level as well. It’s been awesome to watch.