Mularkey Has Titans Playing To Win & They Are

Posted at 10:55 AM, Dec 19, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-19 11:55:54-05

There was zero doubt the Titans were going for two. Mike Mularkey wants his team playing to win, and this was the moment the rubber met the road. 

When the Titans burned their final timeout Sunday in frigid Kansas City, trailing 17-10 with 6:46 to go, Mularkey gathered his offense on the sideline and told them when they scored, they would be going for two and the win. 

It was the biggest moment of the season to that point and Mularkey had a play he liked for the two-point try. More importantly, he wasn't going to abandon the aggressive attitude that had served this underdog team so well as they've climbed from the worst record in football a year ago into the playoff hunt. 

In a similar situation, trailing by the same exact 17-10 score against the Raiders back in week three, the Titans drove into the red zone in the final minute before stalling. After that game, Mularkey said he would've elected to go for two and the win had the Titans scored.

Why change that philosophy now?

The argument can (and perhaps should) be made that a season can't be won or lost in week three. And maybe at that point, Mularkey would have rather taken his chances on one play than in an overtime against the high powered Raiders offense. But what was clear at that moment was the fact the Titans' players fully supported their coach's decision to play to win. 

That, after all, is why you play. And there hasn't been nearly enough winning lately in Tennessee. 

This is a team that despite winning just five games over the past two seasons has believed it could win this year, and much of the credit for that goes to Mularkey. They are playing a physical brand of football and won't back down from anybody. 

So here the Titans were Sunday, marching to erase a double digit lead on the road for the fourth time this season and tie the game. Except this team isn't playing for ties. 

After a pair of third down conversions to Delanie Walker, Marcus Mariota connected with DeMarco Murray for a clutch 15-yard gain on fourth and five with under 4:00 to go setting up Derrick Henry's one-yard touchdown run. 

The score stood at 17-16 with 3:12 to go. The chart says you kick the extra point, but the Titans were going for two despite having only the 2:00 warning left to stop the clock and help them get the ball back. 

The play, which was designed without Walker in the game and with Murray in protection, failed. The Titans seemed destined for a defeat as bitter as the chill on a one degree day at Arrowhead Stadium. 

But here's where that belief comes into play again. Despite the dire situation, Mularkey kicked the ball deep instead of trying for an onside kick, trusting his defense could force a three and out. And the unit, which had pitched a shutout in the second half, obliged by stuffing three conservative run calls by the Chiefs. 

Given one more chance, Mariota drove the Titans 45 yards without a timeout in 1:07, and ex-Chief Ryan Succop boomed the kick of his life in the inclement conditions, splitting the uprights on a 53-yard field goal that gave Tennessee an unlikely 19-17 comeback victory. 

Improbable? Yes. But it was an outcome the Titans fully believed could happen because they've been playing to win by whatever measure it takes since training camp. 

The strategy was unorthodox. In fact, I wouldn't have gone for two with so much on the line and so much at risk. 

But the Titans are now 8-6, tied for first place in the AFC South and in control of their playoff destiny with just two games left in the regular season. 

At this point, it's hard to argue Mularkey isn't pushing all the right buttons with this team. 

He has them believing they should win even when logic says they shouldn't.