For anyone who hates upsets, you best turn away now because it’s all about Tennessee Titans. For the rest of the readers on this fine Monday morning… you just hate to see it (smirking away as I write this comment).
If we were to go back to the start of the season, one would call me insane to say Ryan Tannehill would start at Tennessee Titans. They would laugh and squawk at the fact the former Miami Dolphins quarterback could even contend for playing time in the NFL. The 31-year-old signal-caller was nothing more than a last resort should the team implode during the regular season.
You might have believed that Derrick Henry would be a 1,000-yard rusher, but would you guess he’d lead the league on the ground. Granted, tackling a walking soda machine that can run a sub 4.5 40 is a tough task, but two of three players could get the job done. Plus, Henry had only past the 1,000-yard marker once in his four-year career.
And certainly you wouldn’t have bought that the Tennessee Titans defense would be their x-factor down the stretch. Last season, the passing defense played well but tallied 11 interceptions and only 39 sacks against opposing teams. The likes of a young hurt pass rusher in Jeffery Simmons or coverage from Armani Hooker wasn’t going to change that right?
Derrick Henry: 1,567 yards after contact including playoffs
Most in a single season since 2006 pic.twitter.com/iJcQgnSEND
— PFF (@PFF) January 13, 2020
Crazy things happen in Nashville. Look no further than Mike Vrabel apparently saying he’d slice off his manhood to win a Super Bowl.
Careful what you wish for coach. You’re two wins away from making that dream a reality.
Nobody expected the little engine that helped the Titans team to pull off the victory. More or less, Tennessee barely survived the test to make the postseason. After beginning the season 2-4, Vrabel turned his attention to Tannehill, who, at this point in his career, was more of an enigma than an efficient play-caller. Winning seven of their last 10 games, Tennessee Titans needed a 200-plus yard game from Henry to secure their place in the postseason.
Hey look, the human soda machine won the rushing title? I mean, who else was going to stop him on his way to the end zone?
The King came, The King conquered. 💪
— NFL (@NFL) January 12, 2020
In back to back weeks, the Tennessee Titans have been the underdogs, thriving in the role of down and out. Going against the league’s top defense and a living legend, the New England Patriots were already looking ahead to a date with Kansas City in a rematch from earlier in the year.
Instead, they were met with a bowling ball outing from Henry, who tallied 182 yards and a touchdown, dicing up the defense and giving Tennessee Titans a 20-13 victory. Credit to the defense, who allowed just over 200 passing yards and nabbed a pick-six from former Patriot Logan Ryan.
But hey, New England struggled in the second half of the season. The Baltimore Ravens were definitely going to end the winning streak, right? With potential MVP Lamar Jackson’s energetic style of play against opposing teams, Tennessee Titans should just be happy they advanced.
That narrative would carry over into the week. Much like the “Lamar is a wide receiver prospect” continues to be a controversial subject, so was the conversation of how anyone could believe in the Tennessee Titans. Knowing they were going to be counting their losses, the team embraced their flaws, hoping to set the tone of true contenders in the AFC.
Let’s get this out of the way; Jackson is a stellar quarterback. He will be playing quarterback in the NFL for a very long time. He will have a successful career under center with multiple Pro Bowls and potential rings to boast about for years to come.
508 yards tonight. Youngest MVP in HISTORY. Record-breaking season.
— Overtime (@overtime) January 12, 2020
Everyone heard that? Good. Now then, Saturday night certainly will allow the older crowd on the Twitterverse to believe the former Heisman Trophy winner is better-suited catching balls instead of throwing them.
The Ravens haven’t been used to playing catch up since Jackson took over under center — a feat the Titans forced for four quarters against the top-seed. Although the Ravens flew through the season, they were knocked down in the south this past winter.
The Tennessee Titans capitalized on tipped Mark Andrews’s pass that led to a Kevin Byard interception. Tannehill would make the Ravens regret the opening drive with a toe-tapping 12-yard touchdown throw to Jonnu Smith in the middle of the first quarter.
JONNU SMITH. 😱
— NFL (@NFL) January 12, 2020
Tannehill might not be known for his arm, but his 45-yard touchdown pass to Kalif Raymond was one you couldn’t believe if you heard. Not only because you’re probably wondering “who the heck is Kalif Raymond?”, but also, when has Tannehill ever been known for his deep ball. Both happened in the opening second of the second quarter, giving the Tennessee Titans a 14-0 advantage.
Kalif Raymond with the great Corner-Post route pic.twitter.com/IOdz8VH98X
— Receiver School (@ReceiverSchool) January 12, 2020
From there, it was the same formula throughout the evening; rely on Henry, grab the first down, wash, rinse, repeat the process. Trust their go-to back for a majority of the evening; Henry would break free for a 195-yard performance and make fellow Heisman winner Tim Tebow proud with his 3-yard touchdown jump pass to Corey Davis in the third quarter.
Marcus Mariota was open in the corner and deserved some love, but let’s put a pin in that for now.
It was only when everything seemed out of reach did the Ravens make a stand for the territory. Jackson did all the heavy lifting, and even his 210-pound body only collected 508 total yards of offense and a touchdown. That was after he would throw two picks and a fumble leading to a Tannehill touchdown run.
Perhaps it was early playoff jitters. At 23-years-old, there will be plenty of time for Jackson to learn from his young mistakes. What people will also learn is the terror of the Titans’ defense. The unit tallied three turnovers and four sacks on their way to a 28-12 victory at MT&T Stadium last night.
— Tennessee Titans (@Titans) January 12, 2020
People ask all the time why they have a 12-playoff team system. Why not just have the four best teams battle it out and see who comes out on top. If that were the case, Tennessee Titans would have been considered an afterthought long before their Week 17 do-or-die matchup in Houston.
But four teams won’t show you which teams truly are the best. Some will win because of the strength of schedules, while others become hot at the right moment. Tennessee Titans are now the hottest team in the weirdest fashion heading into Arrowhead Stadium come Sunday. Henry is currently the only player in NFL history with two games in the same postseason with at least 175 rushing yards, and he accomplished that in back-to-back contests. Tannehill becomes the first quarterback since Terry Bradshaw in 1974 to throw for under 100 yards and win two playoff games.
And the best part is the formula is working. Feeding Henry, the ball will pick up the yards, and Tannehill just needs to deliver enough to get by — a task over asked of him with the Dolphins. Throw in a strong defensive play from young talents such as Adoree Jackson, Rashaan Evans, Harold Landry, and Simmons, teams are going to have fits against the Dean Pees unit.
The NFL Final Four is set 🍿
Titans vs. Chiefs
Packers vs. 49ers pic.twitter.com/32AJfDUzbC
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 13, 2020
Tennessee Titans have taken down the G.O.A.T. and the league MVP in back to back weeks. All that stands in their way is the reining one, who just scored half of the triple digits against the Texans on seven straight drives. Perhaps the magic ends in Arrowhead, but Tennessee has already outlived their sixth seed ranking.
Vrabel might need to sleep with ice on his cajones to beat the Chiefs, but something says it’ll be worth it. This Tennessee Titans team isn’t a fluke — and best believe they’re going to give Kansas City a hell of a battle Sunday afternoon.
What is covered in mucus, always tired, and needs to be near a bathroom at all times? If you guessed me, the prize is a tall glass of NyQuil, a drink I’ve come to enjoy the taste of as I try to beat the flu. But hey, writers don’t take a day off during the football season, so why should I be any different.
I’ll try to keep this Two Minute Warning short since there were fewer games, but with news around the NFL of several hires and names, we’ll have to address that too. Let’s dive into this week’s edition.
Bad, bad O’Brien
Only Bill O’Brien could culminate a lifetime of emotions in one afternoon. You know what, make that half as Houston Texans fans were ready to pull the plug walking into the third quarter on life support.
A 21-point lead could have become 28 if the Texans coach had gone for it on 4th and 1. Houston was dominating the Chiefs on all verticals of the game, and another touchdown could have led to more miscues from Patrick Mahomes and his butterfinger receiving corp.
— NFL (@NFL) January 12, 2020
But no, O’Brien wanted to play it safe. He always wants to play it safe and settled for a 31-yard field goal. With three minutes, the Chiefs would be down by three after scoring 21 points back-to-back-to-back. DeAndre Carter would fumble a kickoff, leading to a short field and a Travis Kelce 5-yard touchdown. He’d score again just over 90 seconds later.
The Chiefs would complete one of the NFL’s playoffs craziest comebacks in stellar fashion in front of their fans in frigid conditions. Early on from his 54-yard touchdown to Kenny Stills, Deshaun Watson looked to be out to prove a message. Instead, his team demonstrated a bigger one.
There’s a winning formula down in Houston, but O’Brien isn’t the man to lead the charge.
“You’re up 24 nothin’ and the next thing you know it’s all tied up,” Texans wide receiver Will Fuller said postgame. “So it’s tough.’
The Texans barely survived wins against a .500 Raiders teams and sub .500 rosters of Tampa Bay and Jacksonville. The team was blown out by a rookie-led Denver roster, a Camless Carolina team, and blew a victory over New Orleans to begin the year. And if not for Josh Allen turning back into a clueless quarterback, Houston wouldn’t be in this mess at all because they’d be sitting at home.
— Houston Texans (@HoustonTexans) January 12, 2020
The only story is, will GM O’Brien finally have the courage to fire coach O’Brien? Something tells me that O’Brien thinks O’Brien is doing an OK job in Houston. Pour one out for their fan base tonight and Watson’s career so long, and the chinless wonder is calling the shots.
Browns bring in ‘their guy’
On the surface, no one in Cleveland is going to enjoy this hire. Then again, the only way people were going to shut up was if Josh McDaniels brought three Super Bowls with him to the Rock City.
The Cleveland Browns grew tired of waiting for their man and decided to go with last year’s runner up for this year’s first place. Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski will be named the Cleveland Browns head coach after interviewing for the candidacy earlier this week.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) January 12, 2020
According to reports from Steve Doerschuk, McDaniels wanted more power than Browns’ owner Jimmy Haslam was willing to give. A power struggle ensued, leading to the Patriots offensive coordinator to step away from the position at the last second. Once again, Stefanski wasn’t the first choice, but he was the “next best option” to try and fix the offense.
While San Francisco 49ers’ defensive coordinator Robert Saleh would be a strong option, the fit in Cleveland always seemed to be offensively. Stefanski, 37, might be the man to stop the bleeding in Cleveland for the long-term plan. In two seasons calling the shots in Minnesota, he helped transform the rushing offense into a top 10 unit while making Kirk Cousins look potent under center. He should be able to find the strengths in the No.22 ranked offense with weapons like Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Nick Chubb, and Baker Mayfield.
So if the Browns had hired Kevin Stefanski after last week’s win at New Orleans everyone’s fine with that. But hire him after a loss to a better and rested team – on the road – and there needs to be an investigation? The guy’s career comes down to one game?
— Frank Isola (@TheFrankIsola) January 12, 2020
Stefanski feels like a “safe hire”, but on the surface, he probably was the right call of those in the running. McDaniels would have been nice, but imagine when Bill Belichick retires, and he leaves for New England once more. It seems, at this point, the former Broncos head coach will only settle for the empire at this point in his career.
As for Stefanski, sure the jokes will write themselves, but don’t blame him for the struggles that will come in Cleveland. Haslam has pissed off the fan base long before the hiring and will continue to run the team the way he sees fit. It’s not Stefanski’s fault; he only received one heading coaching offer from the still laughing stock of the NFL.
The over/under on his tenure is set at 2.5 seasons.
Championship weekend set
We have our final four games in place following Sunday’s action. Kyle Shanahan proved that his offense is what Sean McVay dreams of at night with their victory over Minnesota while someone will need to check on Vrabel’s downstairs. Mahomes scored 51 unanswered points, and a controversial fourth-down call led to Green Bay moving onto the Bay.
Patrick Mahomes is the first player in NFL history with 300 Pass yards, 50 Rush yards and 5 Pass TD in a playoff game 🔥
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 12, 2020
The 49ers and Packers certainly will draw the attention after a promising season from both squads. The two missed the playoffs last year, and now one will represent the NFC down in South Beach in just a couple of weeks. The Packers have found a new-heightened offensive success under Matt LaFleur in his first season with the roster. In fact, the first-time head coach now ranks third all-time for a rookie caller in wins, tallying just George Seifert (17) and Jim Caldwell (14).
Fake slant-flat, end up with sluggo-slant. Matt LaFleur is the anti-Mike McCarthy pic.twitter.com/0XEzr5ZJTs
— Brad Kelly (@BradKelly17) January 12, 2020
The 49ers should be proud of their success as Shanahan continues to prove he’s the man needed to change the outcome in the Bay. Steering into the skid last season of injuries and mishaps, Jon Lynch was able to sign the likes of Tevin Coleman, Kwon Alexander, and draft players such as Nick Bosa to transform the culture into contention. Jimmy Garoppolo is Ryan Tannehill with a better arm, and the team plays a similar style like Tennessee by relying on their defense and dominant run game. Sunday should bring one of the league’s top pocket-passers against the nation’s top defense.
Legendary start to the Playoffs ‼️ pic.twitter.com/ainbRmlmfi
— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) January 12, 2020
On the flip side, we all know Tennessee defied the odds by beating Brady and Jackson, but they’re playing small ball. A disciple of Belichick, Vrabel, continues to make adjustments that allow his team to have the advantage, even when out of the conversation. Running a similar formula of San Francisco, give Arthur Smith credit for his simple, yet innovative offensive play-calling to take the Titans this deep.
For Kansas City, will their defense be able to stop Henry? We already know what the offense can do as they scored on eight consecutive drives for a new NFL playoff record. But the defense allowed 17 points within 17 minutes of play to Houston, letting Waston shine through the air. Their secondary still has tackling issues, and Henry isn’t going down on the first contact. But should they be able to contain the beast and force Tannehill to throw, could this be the end for the Titans run?
One thing is certain; don’t call the top seeds “the four best teams” ever again. Clearly, Tennessee is a contender, and they barely made the postseason. Let’s not forget that 2007 season where the little New York Giants historically dethroned the undefeated Patriots. They relied upon the run game from Brandon Jacobs to bring them to the big game.
College Football playoff
This is usually set for NFL coverage, but hey, I’m human and find Monday’s game interesting. The 2019 College Football season comes to a close in the Bayou on Monday evening with LSU taking on Clemson for the national title.
A Swag You Have Never Seen
This Is Our Time. pic.twitter.com/NuPaWdVM16
— LSU Football (@LSUfootball) January 9, 2020
Let’s look at the basics and predict the game. For starters, credit to LSU for multiple things. First, their creative media department needs a raise — have you seen their videos?
Alright, on to the game now after my fangirl moment — wow, what a season for the Tigers. With the addition of Joe Brady to the passing attack, Joe Burrow complied one of the greatest seasons in recent memory for a quarterback. The redshirt senior threw for 55 touchdowns and over 5,000 yards against six interceptions. The defense still has allowed an average of 339 yards per game, which could be a dangerous amount with Clemson, but have found a way to win despite a lackluster outing.
Most touchdowns thrown into a tight window (per @PFF)
1. Joe Burrow – 24
t2. Sam Howell – 14
t2. Jamie Newman – 14
If Joe Burrow was a stock, I’d literally invest my savings in him. pic.twitter.com/74ZEDMab5S
— Anthony Treash (@PFF_Anthony) January 6, 2020
This will be the Tigers’ toughest test as Clemson might be the new dynasty of College Football. Trevor Lawerence perhaps wasn’t a Heisman-caliber player, but he did manage to throw for 36 touchdowns and over 3,000 yards. The team also has a capable run game, led by Travis Etienne, who will play his potential final game near his hometown of Jennings.
But the defense is going to be the storyline. Brent Venables once again has tallied a top-caliber defense in 2019. The unit is currently ranked No.2 in the nation, allowing an average of 264 yards per game.
Sorry Auburn … Clemson’s defense is going to be LSU’s toughest test to date. Brent Venables is the Greg Maddux of college football who paints the strike zone like an artist https://t.co/fsztKqCBT8
— Barrett Sallee (@BarrettSallee) January 12, 2020
This LSU offense under Brady had surpassed every expectation and should be the unit to watch in Monday’s showdown. Everything the Tigers have done just engulfs the spirit of a “one-year-wonder team” that looks impossible to beat. When looking at how much the team will lose this offseason, it’s hard to put into words how much the Bayou Bengals need this win.
Clemson has been the most consistent team in the NCAA for four seasons now. Winning 29 straight games and going to the title game in four of the last five seasons, Dabo Swinney has kept this Tigers’ team in the mix for contention just like Nick Saban down in Alabama. A title this season would bring three in under a decade for the program, putting them in a rare category as one of the nation’s more dominant programs in sports.
LSU has too much going in favor of them, though. The game is in their backyard, and New Orleans is clad in the purple and gold. Give me LSU and Burrow to win this game by at least 10 points. Congrats to the Cookie Monster Ed Orgeron for the victory he’s about to claim for the state of Louisiana.
- ESPN is set to offer CBS’ Tony Romo a lucrative contract to become the voice of Monday Night Football. After a year of Jason Witten and Booger McFarland barely able to keep up with the play-calling, this seems like the right move.
— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) January 13, 2020
The question is, will Tony take the $14 million and… wait, $14?!?!?! what am I doing with my life?!?!
- Few things will make a grown man cry at random. One is seeing another man who’s earned glory finally receive it. Former Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher was announced into the NFL Hall of Fame Saturday on national television just before the start of the AFC divisional game.
— NFL (@NFL) January 12, 2020
- And if you don’t shed a tear at that, Jimmy Johnson’s speech the next day should certainly get the motor going.
We dare you not to cry watching Jimmy Johnson find out he's going into the Pro Football Hall of Fame ❤️
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) January 13, 2020
- If this is the end of Marshawn Lynch, at least we were given a little Beast Mode. Thanks for a fun ride Marshawn, go back to enjoying the retirement skittles. I hear prune is a sweet flavor and filled with fiber.
— NFL (@NFL) January 13, 2020
- So, Za’Darius Smith wasn’t named to a Pro Bowl? 1. Umm, how? He finished sixth in the league with 13.5 sacks! 2. I think, at this point, he’d rather a Super Bowl run. Yes? Yeah, I thought so. https://twitter.com/brgridiron/status/1216510834672685058
Does the Texans rhyme with choke? No, but it sure sounds like that was the case Sunday, and Houston needs a new head coach.
- Let’s talk about the Rooney Rule for a second. Both Robert Saleh and Eric Bieniemy have done enough to prove they are worth consideration for a head coaching position. Perhaps both would have turned down the Browns job, but neither were considered front-runners despite their impressive years.
Wow just wow…… just W….O….W…. guess I should have expected it https://t.co/NqY7s1GxP5
— Richard Sherman (@RSherman_25) January 12, 2020
As someone who is for the “best person for the job,” this is one time I understand why the Rooney Rule is in place. Both men of color have exceeded expectations and still cannot find work as head coaches. With the Stefanski hiring, there are now three black head coaches and four head coaches who fall under the minority category.
In all seriousness, what is the point of the Rooney Rule if you’re gonna hire unqualified white head coaches instead of Eric Bieniemy? We now have 4 head coaches of color in the NFL, not good enough.
— Trent Dunn (@thetmd19982) January 7, 2020
After their successful seasons, there should be six with Bieniemy and Saleh getting their chances. Houston 100% should have the Chiefs offensive coordinator circled for the future.
- The Jacksonville Jaguars have mutually parted ways with offensive coordinator John DeFilippo. The 41-year-old coordinator became a star for his work with Nick Foles and Carson Wentz during the Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl run.
The Jacksonville Jaguars and Offensive Coordinator John DeFilippo have mutually agreed to part ways.
Head Coach Doug Marrone will begin the offensive coordinator search immediately.
— #DUUUVAL (@Jaguars) January 13, 2020
And look at what job is open for business? Let’s not make this hard, people. Also, write Joe Brady a blank check to work with Gardner Minshew, you cowards!
- Green Bay Packers wide receiver Devante Adams has one message for all the Seattle haters.
— B/R Gridiron (@brgridiron) January 13, 2020
- Never forget that on draft night Aaron Rodgers said this.
January 19, 2020
Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers
— Gerald Alexander (@GAlexander21) January 13, 2020
And he’ll have his chance to back that up to come Sunday afternoon.
Cole Thompson is the Lead NFL writer for Pro Football Network. Follow him on Twitter at @MrColeThompson.