The Tennessee Titans have quickly emerged as the surprise team during the 2019 season. At one point, they were last in the AFC South, but now they are preparing to compete in the AFC championship game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
After defeating the New England Patriots on the road in the wild-card round and then the No. 1 seed Baltimore Ravens on the road in the divisional round, the Titans all of a sudden appear to be a team of destiny. It's pretty incredible considering they started the season 2-4, and are riding a quarterback who started the season as a backup and is getting most of his salary from another NFL team.
The Titans missed the playoffs last year after failing to capitalize on a win-and-you're-in situation in Week 17 against the Indianapolis Colts, but they are now just one game from the Super Bowl. What are the key additions they made to get here, and what was the turning point for their success?
Whether or not the Titans are a team of destiny or if they can go all the way, it's been quite a story. Let's take a look back and analyze how Tennessee got here:
The Titans picked up a solid offensive guard in Saffold and someone who was considered a budding star in Humphries in free agency. The former Buccaneer only caught 37 passes for 374 yards and two touchdowns in 12 games this season, but he came up big in a couple of contests like in Week 10 against the Chiefs. Still, the Titans didn't acquire anyone via free agency that took them from pretender to contender.
When you look at the draft, however, the Titans hit on a few key picks that definitely helped them along the way. Davis started the last 14 games this season, including the two playoff games, and has been coming on as of late. He had a key block against the Ravens during Tannehill's rushing touchdown in the third quarter. Simmons was someone the Titans drafted even though there was a possibility he would be unable to play in his first NFL season due to injury. He came back in Week 7 against the Los Angeles Chargers, however, and made an immediate impact -- recording four combined tackles and one sack.
Last but certainly not least, the budding star out of Ole Miss: Brown. He led all rookie receivers with 1,051 receiving yards and tied for the lead with eight touchdown catches. He had four 100-yard games in the last six weeks of the regular season, and he has looked almost unstoppable at times. Any time he touches the football, there's a chance he's taking it all the way for six. He truly appears to the be the star wideout the Titans have been looking for.
The move that truly transformed the Titans was. The Dolphins got a 2019 seventh-round pick and a 2020 fourth-round pick while the Titans got Tannehill and a 2019 sixth-round pick. The Dolphins also paid $5 million of his $7 million in guarantees, which makes this deal an absolute steal for the Titans. He threw for 2,742 yards, 22 touchdowns and six interceptions in 12 games, and ended the regular season with the best passer rating in the NFL.
Week 7 vs. Los Angeles Chargers
Identifying the turning point for the Titans this season was quite easy. It's when head coach Mike Vrabel made the decision to bench Mariota for Tannehill.
", trying to evaluate what we're doing and how we're functioning as an offense," Vrabel told reporters on Oct. 16. "It just felt like now was the time, and sitting at that game, sitting where I was -- made the decision during the game and then was just able to think about it, evaluate it and make a decision to try to spark the offense, to try to do something to get us going, to score some points and to help us win."
The Titans recorded just 204 yards of total offense in a 16-0 loss to the Denver Broncos, which knocked them down to 2-4. With Tannehill under center the next week, the Titans beat the Chargers, 23-20, as the former Dolphin completed 23 of 29 passes for 312 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. with Tannehill. Mariota hadn't thrown for 312 or more yards in a game since Week 4 last season, and it took him four games to throw a touchdown to a wide receiver this year. Tannehill had two in his first game as the starter.
Tannehill finally got the offense humming. According to Titansonline.com, the Titans' offense engineered its longest drive of the season at that point against the Chargers, in terms of time and number of plays -- a 14-play, 85-yard drive which lasted just over seven minutes. The Titans also converted 54.5% of third downs, their best third-down conversion rate of the season to that point, and recorded 403 offensive yards, the highest total as a team since last year. Additionally, Tennessee scored touchdowns on all three of its red-zone possessions.
Tannehill won seven out of the Titans' last 10 regular-season games and 2-0 in the postseason. Some games he has thrown for 391 yards and three touchdowns like he did against the Oakland Raiders, and some games he has thrown for 72 yards and just one touchdown like he did against the Patriots during Wild Card weekend. Whether putting the game on his shoulders or just handing the ball off to Derrick Henry, Tannehill has played many roles for the Titans, and done so successfully.
Week 10 vs. Kansas City Chiefs
I was actually present at this game for CBS. My assignment was to cover Patrick Mahomes' return to the field since he missed the previous two games due to a knee injury, but the afternoon ended up being more about the Titans. Tennessee blocked a field goal on the last play of the game to earn a 35-32 victory. Mahomes threw for a season-high 446 passing yards and three touchdowns, Tyreek Hill caught a career-high 11 passes for 157 yards and a touchdown -- yet the Titans still earned the victory. -- and that's exactly what it was. The victory got the Titans to 5-5 and out of last place in the AFC South -- and eventually helped in acquiring a spot in the postseason.
It's so interesting that the Titans and Chiefs will face off in the AFC championship game. Their Week 10 matchup was actually the Chiefs' last loss to date, and also when Henry began his incredible run for the Titans. He rushed for 188 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries -- which would be the first of seven 100-yard games over the next eight games. In those eight contests, Henry rushed 203 times for 1,273 yards, 11 touchdowns and averaged 6.27 yards per carry. According to Graham Barfield of NFL.com, that. Henry ran wild against two of the top defenses in the Patriots and the Ravens over the last two weeks. There's no reason why he can't replicate his play against the Chiefs on Sunday.
Full 2019 results
AFC Championship prediction
I'm not sure what more you can say about Henry. He rushed for 182 yards and a touchdown against the Patriots and then 195 yards against the Ravens. What's even better is that Ravens safety Earl Thomas knew the Titans were going to try to replicate their game plan, feeding Henry until he couldn't run anymore. Thomas poked fun at the Patriots for being uninterested in tackling Henry, but still, Henry went off on the Ravens for even more rushing yards than he put up against the Patriots. Is he unstoppable? I think so. He just became the first player since 1950 to rush for over 180 yards in three consecutive games.
On the flip side, when things got hairy against the Texans, the Chiefs didn't flinch. Mahomes and Co. were down 24-0 in the second quarter, but battled back and acquired a 28-24 halftime lead. If we learned anything from the Chiefs' 51-31 win last weekend, it's that they have the most explosive offense in the league. Everyone wants to talk about Hill and Travis Kelce, but how about running back Damien Williams? He had two rushing touchdowns and one receiving touchdown last week, which made him just the fourth player since 1950 to have two career postseason games with three or more touchdowns.
The Chiefs are better on paper, but I truly do believe the Titans are a team of destiny.
Pick: Titans 31-28 over Chiefs