Remembering the Titans: A Dive into one of the most unlikely playoff runs of all time

Staff Writer: Shane Zachos

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Tennessee Titans defense doing the infamous dance from the movie Remember the Titans. Photo credit: newsweek.com

Coming into the playoffs, the Tennessee Titans were a team that everyone could say they counted out early, as they had to play Tom Brady and the Patriots in one of the most electrifying atmospheres in all of sports.

Everywhere you looked (on paper) New England had the Titans’ number, whether it was coaching, quarterback play, experience, defense, the Titans looked like their post season was going to be a quick one. However, there are still some that could have seen the upset coming. After finishing 9-7 in the regular season and just barely getting a spot in the AFC Wild Card, the Titans came in looking like a confident and overlooked team.

They were a tough, hard nose, old school like football team with how they played. Their regular season record may not have shown much potential but their scheme against teams with higher talent seemed to work decently throughout the year, keeping teams like the Saints a close game hard fought game.

It all starts with the guy under center, the quarterback, and for the Titans it was their second stringer, Ryan Tannehill, that had to take over. Tannehill did not start until Week 6 of the regular season, but since taking over the job, he has put up consistent numbers to help his team get the wins they needed.

He threw 22 touchdowns and only 6 interceptions through his 10-game regular season. This comes to show why the Titans made the decision to make a quarterback change…he rarely has turnovers and does not try to do too much in his game.

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Tannehill (left) discussing the game plan with his backup Marcus Mariota (right). Photo credit: Titansized.com

The biggest help to a quarterback is when a team establishes a running game and can control the clock and that is exactly how the titans won majority of their games. When you have a great offensive line that can get down field to the next level of defense and have a work horse in the backfield like Derek Henry, it makes your quarterback a lot calmer and more confident.

Titans coach, Mike Vrabel, had his scheme for the playoffs and he was going to stick to it. It was simple on the offensive of side…give the ball to the 6’3, nearly 250 pounds, 4.5 forty-time speed, running back. Henry is a straight up scary player to tackle and as the game goes on, defenders start shying away from him.

On the defensive side, the Titans planned on relying on their linebackers to fully stop the run while defensive backs like Kevin Byard and Logan Ryan would have to make plays as they disguised converges right before the ball is snapped.

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Titans head coach, Vrabel (right), shaking hands with his former coach Bill Belichick (left) after pulling off the upset in the wildcard. Photo Credit: Touchdownwire.usatoday.com

With their first game in Foxborough, the Titans would have to face one of the greatest dynasties of all time. Tom Brady and his coach Bill Belichick have only lost two home playoff games in the 19 seasons they have been together.

In the beginning, it looked like it was going to just be a dominant game from the Patriots. Their defense shut down the Titans to a three and out and scored on their first drive. However, the Titans stayed with the Patriots the whole time and kept coming up with answers to every time you thought that Brady’s Patriots were going to run away with the game.

As the game went on, you could feel a momentum switch turn to the Titans side as Henry was just toying with the Patriots’ defense. Then, after the Titans defense was able to trick Brady into throwing the pick six to cornerback, Logan Ryan, it was clear the Titans just pulled off one of the greatest upsets in NFL history.

The Titans did exactly what they wanted to do, chip away at the clock and stop the run and force Brady’s playmakers to beat them. Henry would finish with over 200 total yards and the Tennessee defense forced brady to throw just a 54 percent completion percentage. When asked how this moment felt, Tannehill responded with, “It’s huge, but it just goes to show how we showed resilience throughout the year.” This moment made all football fans shocked…what if I told you at the beginning of the year that Tom Brady’s season would end in the hand of Ryan Tannehill’s football team?

The next week, Tennessee would have to travel to Baltimore to the number one seeded Ravens with the MVP frontrunner Lamar Jackson. Now the question was, are the Titans going to prove that their win in Foxborough was just a fluke or if they are the real deal and could contend for a super bowl.

All year, no one has been able to stop Jackson and the Ravens rushing attack as they were first in the league in rushing offense. However, the Ravens talent was not just on offense and with Lamar, but they had veterans like corner Marcus Peters, safety Earl Thomas, and young, quarterback hungry Mattew Judon. The two big problems for the Titans were: 1. How will you stop the rushing attack and Lamar Jackson? And 2. How will you be able to run against such a powerful and athletic defensive line that the Ravens had?

When the game started, the Ravens looked dominant until Kevin Byard was able to pick off a Jackson pass and start the momentum shift. From that point on…the Titans whole team played lights out. Henry brought a factor that brought all defenders to their heels and that set up Tannehill’s play action deep ball plays.

They made Jackson, for the first time all season, human and forced him into three turnovers and absolutely dominated the upfront making Lamar make plays outside the box which ultimately led to less rushing yards for him on the read option plays.

Henry, once again, showed his dominance in the rushing attack with 30 carries for 195 yards and even a trick play where he threw a touchdown. It was hard to say where exactly the Ravens went wrong but fan base web page Baltimoresrun.com states, “They did not lose because played below his usual standard – they lose because the rest of the team did not play to the standard, they did all year long.”

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Derik Henry (left) putting a stiff arm on Earl Thomas (right) to set up for a long run. Photo credit: 12up.com

With the Titans losing in the AFC Championship game to Kansas City, it could be easy to forget about the absolutely miraculous run they had. Coming into the playoffs as a 6 seed, beating Brady in Foxborough and dominating the MVP of the regular season, this all needs to be remembered for a long time. What makes this run by the Titans so unique is how they did it the old fashion way. Run the ball, control the game and only pass when you need to. It was so unorthodox that everyone loved to watch it work. Who knows what super bowl matchup we would be having if it wasn’t for the Tennessee Titans.

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