Titans vs. Chiefs score, takeaways: Marcus Mariota leads Tennessee to huge playoff win
Tennessee overcame an 18-point halftime deficit for its first playoff victory since 2003
If you're a Chiefs' fan and looking for some good news, this is about the best we can do: Saturday's 22-21 playoff loss to the Titans wasn't the worst in the Andy Reid era. In 2013, Reid's first season in Kansas City, the Chiefs led the Colts, 38-10, early in the second half and ended up losing that game, 45-44.
Beyond that, there are no bright spots to what went down at Arrowhead Stadium. For starters, the Chiefs led, 21-3, at home, against a Titans outfit that was predictable on offense and porous on defense. Of course, perhaps we all should have known this was coming; the Chiefs have now lost six straight home playoff games, and 10 of their last 11 postseason games. And quarterback Alex Smith, who has 50 regular-season wins — second behind only Tom Brady and Russell Wilson — since arriving in Kansas City in 2013, is just 1-3 in the playoffs.
Meanwhile, prior to Saturday the Titans had overcome a 14-point deficit once in the Marcus Mariota era: Week 15 of the 2016 season. Any guesses on who they were playing?
There was no need for Succop this time because Mariota, who had battled injuries and inconsistency for much of the season, put the team on his back. And when he needed a break, running back Derrick Henry took over and the two took turns demoralizing the Chiefs until time expired.
It was an impressive effort by a team many folks — us included (seriously, we couldn't have been more wrong about Tennessee) — counted out long before kickoff. But their are several lessons here: 1) Never underestimate Andy Reid's ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, 2) When Mariota and the Titans' running game is on, they're hard to stop and 3) Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau may be 80 years old but he remains as engaged as ever. After a slow start, the Titans' defense shut down an explosive Chiefs' offense.
Before we move on, there's also this:
So much for Mariota struggling
The 2015 second-overall pick didn't have a great regular season. He completed 62 percent of his passes this season (right in line with his career average) but set a career low in average yards per completion (7.1, down from 7.6 his first two seasons). Mariota also set a career lows in touchdowns (13) and passer rating (79.3) and a career high in interceptions (15). He did rush for 312 yards and five touchdowns but his 5.2 yards per carry were also a career low. His best game of the season probably came in a Week 15 loss to the 49ers; Mariota finished 23 of 33 for 241 yards with two touchdowns, no turnovers and a passer rating of 110.8.
That changed on Saturday when he completed 19 of 31 passes for 205 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Those numbers don't sound particularly impressive when you read them, which is why we have moving pictures to prove our point. Take, for example, Mariota's first touchdown pass. It was intended for Corey Davis. The ball never got that far. Instead, it was batted down near the goal line, ricocheted back to Mariota, who dove for the pylon.
in case you're still confused, Mariota caught his own touchdown pass.
This has never happened in the postseason and only happened once before ever in NFL history … by Brad Johnson:
Given how much the Titans' offense has struggled — and the "Mike Mularkey should be fired" speculation has swirled — the Mariota-to-Mariota game plan quickly became popular.
It also gave credence to comments made earlier in the week by one of Mariota's favorite targets, tight end Delanie Walker. "Sometimes coaching is like, they draw it on the paper, you run a straight line and you break out," Walker said. "Sometimes you've got to overcome coaching. That defender is never going to let you run a straight line, so figure out how to make that line straight without running it straight, you know what I'm saying?"
Marcus understands perfectly, Delanie.
Chiefs weren't big on tackling Derrick Henry
Partly because Henry becomes tougher to tackle as the game progresses and that became abundantly clear by the fourth quarter. When it was over, Henry 22 carries for 156 yards and a touchdown. This early fourth quarter 35-yard touchdown sprint served as a microcosm of the Chiefs' struggles in the second half:
And credit to the Titans for exploiting a weakness; the Chiefs ranked dead last against the run, according to Football Outsiders, and their performance did nothing to disabuse us of that notion.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs, for reasons that remain a mystery, made themselves a one-dimensional offense despite leading for three-and-a-half quarters. That luxury of diversity starts with Smith, who quietly became one of the league's best quarterbacks, and it continues with rookie Kareem Hunt, who not only led the league in rushing with 1,327 yards (4.9 yards per carry) and eight touchdowns, but also hauled in 53 passes for 455 yards and three more scores.
For an idea of just how good Hunt has been, consider this: he ranks fifth overall in value per play, ahead of Le'Veon Bell, Mark Ingram and Ezekiel Elliott. And Hunt is Smith's third-favorite passing target after tight end Travis Kelce and speed merchant Tyreek Hill.
So, naturally, Reid decided to lean on Smith and his passing game and forget about Hunt after the first quarter.
Good luck explaining that one, Andy.
We can't stress how well Mariota played
After falling behind 22-21, it looked like football gods had finally seen fit to let the Chiefs win a playoff game. Marcus Peters, who isn't known for his ability to tackle anybody, much less one of the league's most physical backs, appeared to have stripped Henry of the ball and linebacker Derrick Johnson scored the go-ahead touchdown. For about five seconds, it was the most amazing play of the game.
Except that Henry was down before he fumbled. Undeterred, the Titans kept feeding Henry and a play later, Mariota's block sprung Henry for a 12-yard game.
Three kneel-downs later and the Titans had their first playoff win since 2003.
Mike Mularkey survives another week, Alex Smith watch officially underway
Mularkey was expected to lose his job if the Titans had lost to the Jaguars in Week 17. Instead, after a three-game losing streak Tennessee has now won two straight and will either face the Patriots or Steelers next week. If they somehow find a away to win in the divisional round, it gets much harder to fire Mularkey, who led the team to back-to-back 9-7 seasons.
The Chiefs, meanwhile, NFL Draft but it's hard to imagine he's ready to step in for Smith, who is 50-26 in five seasons with the Chiefs.even though he was one of the league's top-10 quarterbacks in 2017. Kansas City traded up for Pat Mahomes in the 2017
CBSSports.com's John Breech:
Speaking of the Browns, they just hired former Chiefs' general manager John Dorsey. This is a good thing.
The Titans will play either the Patriots in Foxoboro or the Steelers in Pittsburgh, depending on what happens in Sunday's Bills-Jaguars game. The Chiefs will join the rest of us on the couch for the rest of the postseason.
For now, relive all the magic of Tennessee's playoff win in the live blog below.
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