Just about 3:30 p.m. ET last Sunday, the reeling Titans were on life support. They were getting suffocated by the Ravens, looked like they were about to go from 5-1 to 5-5 and their injury situation was fairly bleak.
Oh my, what a difference a week makes.
By 2:30 p.m. Sunday, with a 21-point lead over the Colts at halftime that felt more like 40 points and Indianapolis unable to slow down Derrick Henry, let alone corral him, suddenly the Titans were sitting as pretty as could be in the AFC. They avoided being swept by the Colts, picked up two huge road conference wins that may have massive postseason implications and now look like the team to beat in the AFC South.
It's pretty wild to think how shaky the Titans looked as the third quarter expired in Baltimore last week. Henry had run 17 times for just 54 yards and major questions loomed for a Titans defense that has been without its lone real pass rusher (Jadaveon Clowney) and its best corner (Adoree Jackson) after Tennessee already lost Pro Bowl left tackle for the season. It looked every bit like Tennessee was going to drop a fourth game in a five-game span.
I still have questions about this team's ability to hold its own on defense against the likes of the Chiefs, Steelers or Bills, but the past eight days have absolutely given them a huge playoff boost. Timing is everything, so they say, and Tennessee caught the Ravens on a day their two best run stuffers -- Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams -- were out, which became a key factor in the fourth quarter and overtime. And Sunday they caught the Colts without their two best defensive linemen -- DeForest Buckner and Denico Autry -- and used Henry like a sledgehammer to run away with this game quickly.
It was a wild Week 12 Sunday and there's a lot to go over. John Breech, Ryan Wilson and host Will Brinson break it all down on the Pick Six Podcast; listen below and be sure to subscribe for daily NFL goodness fired into your eardrums.
After that slow start in Baltimore, Henry finished the game with 89 yards, a touchdown, and two Herculean runs on his final 10 rushes. And in Indianapolis, Henry ran 17 times in the first half for 140 yards and three more touchdowns. So in a little more than three quarters of work (plus one overtime drive), Henry had amassed 229 rushing yards on 27 carries (8.48 yards per carry!) with four touchdowns.
Henry loves November; it's when he does his best work. Safe to say this is Henry SZN, and with more injuries along the offensive line, they may need every bit of it. A.J. Brown dominated in the first half as well, and the Colts defense looked lost without its anchors up front.
Would Henry have been able to run free if the Colts were not so compromised? We'll never know, but their first meeting a few weeks ago had a very different outcome. The passing game has struggled to gain more than 200 yards a game or so since losing Taylor Lewan, but when you run the ball like this it won't matter most of the time.
With a 6-3 conference record and 3-1 divisional record, plus the Jags and Lions still to play, a 10-win Titans will be sitting pretty from the tiebreaker perspective, and a win over Cleveland next week would give them a bevy of key head-to-head wins (they also beat the Bills already). They'll be back in the playoffs.
Three franchises mostly synonymous with losing for the past decade (or more, in some instances) all gave great reason to doubt them after a fairly brutal Week 12. Yes, the Browns were victorious, barely, over the hapless Jags (and did so without Myles Garrett), but this game had no business being this close and Cleveland is going to have some interesting offseason discussions about Baker Mayfield.
Mayfield looked lost playing against a defense that has been lost basically all season. He routinely missed wide open receivers on third down and in critical sequences in the end zone. It was really that ugly. Coach Kevin Stefanski knows he has to boot him around and move him all over to get anything done through the air (seems like reading half the field is his best bet), but that ain't gonna cut it against real teams in January.
The run game is good enough to get them into an expanded postseason field, I think, but Mayfield is a problem. He missed a simple short pass that would have put the game away. He never seemed comfortable, and that has been the case far too often this season. It took all 207 yards to win this game. Not a good sign.
Just when I finally fully bought in on the Raiders offense, they revert to brand. Five turnovers in three quarters? Check? Ridiculous roughing-the-passer penalties coming very late? Check? Totally unnecessary roughing-the-kicker penalty at a critical time in the game? You betcha. Sideline scuffle between a player and coach? Bingo. Soul-crushing pick-six? Yeah, that too. Hard to wonder about their psyche a little now after giving one away to the Chiefs last week -- coming so close to a sweep -- and then getting destroyed by the Falcons to fall to 6-5.
And the Cardinals seem to have hit a crisis of confidence as well. Kyler Murray has been off lately, and they are not running him nearly enough as the offense seems constricted and conservative. The Cardinals suffered a last-second loss to the Patriots -- on a day when New England had nothing on offense -- that could come back to haunt them with a critical meeting with the Rams up next.
Could be all three teams end up in the playoffs anyway. But I definitely have some reservations.
More insider notes
- I can't see any way Anthony Lynn makes it to 2021 as Chargers coach. More game management and clock management issues, a bizarre decision to punt around midfield at the end of the first half and some play-calling madness at the end of the game -- nothing is working. They excel at finding ways to lose games, and something has to change there. They can't sell this next year.
- With each week, it becomes more clear the Jets are all about that 0-16 action. The offense is a complete disaster. Problem is, Sam Darnold looks pretty damaged, too. The offense had more life with Joe Flacco. Darnold is not seeing the field well or executing, and his trade value could really plummet by the end of the season.
- Mike Gesicki is really emerging, but I remain a skeptic on the Dolphins. They won ugly on Sunday but Ryan Fitzpatrick might not have any magic left and they can't play the Jets every week.
- Another week where Raheem Morris's candidacy to keep the Falcons head coaching job gains steam.
- Tyreek Hill going for 200 yards in the first quarter? Really? Give that MVP to Patrick Mahomes.
- The Bucs continue to run an offense that is not suited to Tom Brady at all. They almost seem averse to embracing the screen game or intermediate routes where he has the best chance to win. The angst down there is growing and this story isn't going away, especially if Bruce Arians continues to make a cottage industry out of ripping Brady in public.
- The Broncos running a freak-show offense is far from ideal, and not the best look playing a regular season NFL game without an actual QB, but this is 2020, everything is nuts, and that's the way it goes. If they're going to play this entire season and playoffs, this probably won't be the last time we see something like that.