Titans vs. Redskins final score, takeaways: Late turnovers lift Tennessee despite big night from Washington offense
The Titans desperately needed a win and they got it over the injured Redskins
In a season where the NFL's most prolific teams rely heavily on throwing the football down the field, the Titans have taken a different path to success. Never mind what the Chiefs, Saints or Rams are doing; Tennessee has found success in a balanced offense, one that has long featured Marcus Mariota, and in the last three games, outta-nowhere performances from Derrick Henry. The rest first-year coach Mike Vrabel left up to the Titans' bend-but-don't-break defense, all of which was on display Saturday afternoon against the Redskins in a must-win game for both teams.
When it was over, Tennessee leaned on all of the above to eke out the 25-16 victory. And we say "eke out" because Washington led until there was 4:30 left in the game when a 14-point blitzkrieg changed everything -- not only in this game, but potentially the rest of the season too.
Titans' offense chugs along without Mariota
it's fair to say that Mariota's career has been marred by inconsistency. But one of the biggest reasons for that has nothing to do with his ability to routinely complete easy throws and everything to do with his inability to stay healthy. Mariota, the second-overall pick in 2015, missed two games earlier this season with an elbow injury, and he was forced from the game late in the second quarter after suffering this sack, which the Titans called a stinger:
Enter Blaine Gabbert, the former Jaguars first-round pick who is a better backup than starter. He was under center in Week 2 and 3 when Mariota was out, and helped the Titans to wins over the Texans and Jaguars. He entered Saturday's game having completed 59 percent of his throws with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He left Nissan Stadium with 11 completions on seven attempts, including a touchdown, no turnovers and a passer rating of 123.7.
And this wasn't garbage-time stats-padding -- he was making big-time throws with the playoffs on the line. Here he is on the Titans' penultimate drive that led to the go-ahead touchdown. It started with this 35-yard dime:
And ended with a goal-line play-action touchdown pass:
"It was a lot of fun to get back in the huddle with the guys," Gabbert told NFL Network after the game. "[We] tried to find a little spark there in the fourth quarter and just execute our offense."
And that's exactly what they did, even if it took more than three quarters to get rolling. The other half of that offensive success rested with Derrick Henry, who had a forgettable season until Week 14, when he rushed for 238 yards and four touchdowns against the Jaguars, and followed that up last Sunday with 170 yards and two scores against the Giants. The Redskins did a better job of containing him on Saturday but Henry finished 84 yards on 21 carries, including a first-quarter touchdown:
But Henry's biggest contribution came on that next-to-last drive, when he rushed for 33 yards on four carries -- including an 18-yard scamper -- right before Gabbert's touchdown pass.
Somebody thought Mark Sanchez was better than Josh Johnson
For 58 minutes, two players in their 30s that nobody wanted starred for the Redskins on Saturday night in Nashville in a must-win game. Unfortunately for Josh Johnson, Adrian Peterson and their teammates, NFL football contests are 60-minute affairs. But man, for nearly four quarters, Johnson, 32, and Peterson, 33, were carrying the Redskins. And while the Titans had a balanced offense (25 passes, 27 rushes), the Redskins had no problem leaning on AP. He finished with 119 yards on 26 carries (4.6 YPC) and was running like it was 2008, not 2018. He ran so well, in fact, that he surpassed two milestones in the game.
First, he ran for at least 1,000 yards for the eighth time in his career:
And he also passed Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson for eighth on the all-time rushing list:
Next up: Jerome Bettis, also a Hall of Famer, who has 13,662 rushing yards.
Meanwhile, Josh Johnson was balling. He looked like the best player on the field for much of the game. Here he is early in the second quarter, following a sack near his own goal line:
Move the sticks. Fast-forward some eight minutes and 85 yards later:
That doesn't look like a quarterback who hadn't played an NFL game in five years, or started one in seven years. It certainly helped to have Peterson in the backfield with him. Even with all the injuries along the offensive line, to tight ends Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis, not to mention quarterbacks Alex Smith and Colt McCoy, the Redskins were the best team on the field for long stretches in this game. Which brings us to this very important point ...
Don't forget about that Titans defense
Yes, they struggled to stop Peterson and Johnson until the very end, but it's hard to argue with the results. Johnson's first mistake of the night game just inside the two-minute warning, with the Redskins driving and trailing the Titans by three points. His third-down pass intended for Josh Doctson was overthrown -- thanks in part to late pressure from a blitzing Malcolm Butler -- and Kevin Byard, as is usually the case, was perfectly positioned for a big play:
The Redskins forced a three-and-out, but a booming Brett Kern punt gave Johnson one more chance from Washington's 15-yard line with 14 seconds remaining. His first attempt fell incomplete. His second found Butler, who put an exclamation point on the Titans' victory:
Fun (OK, weird) fact
Here are the least-convoluted playoff scenarios for both teams: The Redskins (7-8) needed to win the last two games and have the Cowboys lose out in order to win the NFC East. Short of that, they needed to win out and have the Vikings lose at least one in the final two weeks to earn a wild-card spot. Both these are now off the table, so they'll need some help to backdoor their way into the postseason.
The Titans needed to win the last two games and have the Texans lose out in order to win the AFC South. And to make it as a wild-card team, Tennessee needed to win out and have the Ravens or Steelers lose one game. Both options are still alive -- and for the time being, Tennessee ahead of Baltimore, pending the results of the Saturday night Ravens-Chargers get-together. You can stream that game on fuboTV (Try for free).
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