NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — A week ago it was fair to wonder if the Titans had enough in them to compete against AFC favorites like the Bills and Chiefs. They were beat up, inconsistent and still looking to establish an identity.
A lot can change in six days.
And Sunday’s 27-3 win over the two-time AFC champion Chiefs, on the heels of a thrilling 34-31 win over the AFC East leading Bills Monday, shows this Titans team is a legit AFC contender identified by its toughness and belief. Guys have stepped in and stepped up to help them overcome the injuries – the defense played without two starters in the secondary and the offensive line played most of Sunday with a third string left tackle – but mostly this is a team that’s coming together and doing whatever they need to do to win.
Against Buffalo it was a defense that bent, but didn’t break, repeatedly standing tall in the red zone and holding the Bills to field goals, coupled with an offense that scored on each of its final six meaningful possessions. Against Kansas City it was an offense that stayed hot early, scoring on its first five possessions, and a defense that shut the door by harassing Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs into their lowest scoring output since he took over as the team’s starting quarterback.
Offensive coordinator Todd Downing expertly sandwiched playaction passes to A.J. Brown and Julio Jones around a Derrick Henry run on the first three plays of the game. It was the first time the Titans’ top three offensive weapons had touched the ball on consecutive plays this season, and it set the tone for the day. Kansas City repeatedly loaded the box in an effort to stop Henry, and they were able to snap his career best streak of five straight games rushing for 100 yards or more by holding him to 86 yards on 29 carries. But the Titans were able to take advantage of that gameplan by getting Brown and Jones going.
The duo combined for five catches for 117 yards on the game’s first two drives as the Titans drove 75 yards and 97 yards, respectively, for touchdowns. Brown showed no ill effects of the food poisoning he suffered from into Monday night’s game against Buffalo. He should keep eating whatever he had this weekend after going off for eight catches, 133 yards and a 24-yard touchdown against the Bills.
Ryan Tannehill picked up where he left off against Buffalo. After completing his final nine passes Monday, Tannehill completed his first 11 for 167 yards against Kansas City. He finished 21-of-27 for 270 yards and a touchdown, and also ran for a two yard score in the second quarter that pushed the lead to 24-0. Excluding two drives that consisted only of a kneel down to kill the clock at the end of the first half and the end of the game against Buffalo, the Titans scored on 11 consecutive meaningful possessions before Tannehill made a rare mistake with an interception to start the second half.
By that time the defense had already done its part to put the game out of reach. Bud Dupree had his first sack as a Titan while Denico Autry got to Mahomes twice, continuing to be the team’s most productive offseason signing.
David Long continued to fly around the field, deflecting a pass that was intercepted by Rashaan Evans. That was the sixth interception by Mahomes this season, already tying his total from last year, and one of two turnovers by the former MVP in the first half. Kevin Byard punched the ball loose as Mahomes tried to scramble for a first down and it was recovered by Matthias Farley, who played well with Amani Hooker again out and the Titans shuffling DB’s. That turnover led to a 51-yard Randy Bulluck field goal just before half that gave the Titans a 27-0 lead.
It was a comprehensive butt whooping, and one of the most complete halves of football we’ve seen from the Titans in some time. They outgained the explosive Chiefs 277-67, racking up a whopping 19 first downs. They converted six or seven first downs and held he ball nearly four times as long as KC with 23:16 of possession in the half.
The defense made sure the halftime lead was more than enough, racking up more sacks (4) than it allowed points with the Chiefs mustering a lone third quarter field goal. They forced three turnovers in all and held Mahomes and company to just four of 11 third down conversions and zero points in three trips to the red zone.
It was the best performance by a Titans defense since a shutout of the Giants in 2018, and demands a reevaluation of what we thought of both teams coming in.
First, the Chiefs who have been to back to back Super Bowls and we’re again the AFC favorite entering the season, but don’t look anything like the same team. The defense has never been good, but they’ve always overcome with their elite offense. That isn’t happening now behind a retooled offensive line, which can’t jump start the running game or keep Mahomes upright in the pocket. The playmakers are still there, but right now Mahomes doesn’t have the protection and time to get them the ball as much as he needs.
Maybe Kansas City can get it fixed, but right now this looks like a Wild Card team at best. Including the Titans, the Chiefs have played all four of the teams leading divisions in the AFC entering Sunday and have lost all four games. And that’s not a fluke. All those teams are just better right now.
Which brings us back to a Titans team which limped out of the Meadowlands just three weeks ago with an overtime loss to the previously winless Jets, but has since rebounded to win three straight for the first time in over a calendar year.
On offense Henry is making a push for MVP, Brown and Jones are finally getting healthy and catching their stride, and Tannehill is finding his rhythm behind an O-Line that seems to has shored things up, allowing just one sack in the past two games. Defensively, the Titans have seemingly found the recipe for success. Autry, Byard, Long, Jeff Simmons and Harold Landry are all playing elite level football. Collectively, they’re making opponents drive the field by limiting the big plays, and buckling down on third down and in the red zone. Throw in a plus-four turnover margin over this three game winning streak and this is a unit that is now contributing to the team’s success with its play where it once was just hoping not to prevent it.
That type of complimentary football, preached at nauseam by Mike Vrabel, has the Titans looking like a contender. They have a two game lead in the AFC South with a chance to all but wrap up the division at the midway point of the season if they can complete the season sweep of the Colts in Indianapolis next week.
Most importantly, they’ve proven they can compete with and beat the AFC’s upper echelon teams. A feat that perhaps few outside their own locker room thought likely before the start of the week.
Like we said, a lot can change in six days.