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Titans Show Guts, Silence Critics In Playoff Stunner

Posted at 10:09 PM, Jan 06, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-06 23:09:04-05

The Titans are still a work in progress -- a young team continuing to grow through frustrating lapses and maddening miscues. But they already possess the most important quality any team can have, and that's the belief that they can win any game they play no matter the circumstances.

That was on full display in the second half Saturday at frigid Arrowhead Stadium as the Titans rallied past the Chiefs 22-21 for their first playoff win since 2004.

Read More: Titans Rally From 21-3 Hole, Beat Chiefs 22-21 In Playoffs

Tennessee was only given a puncher's chance going to Kansas City, installed as an eight-point underdog. And it looked like the stage may be too big and the opponent too mighty early on as the Chiefs rushed to a 14-0 first quarter lead, outgaining the Titans 179-35. They added to that lead just before halftime when Alex Smith threw his second touchdown pass, hitting DeMarcus Robinson for a 14-yard strike and a 21-3 lead.

But as they have done all year, the Titans showed their resilience, staying patient and sticking with their game plan while scoring touchdowns on each of their first three drives of the second half. And the defense, spearheaded by Hall of Famer Dick LeBeau, adjusted brilliantly to hold the Chiefs scoreless on just three first downs after halftime.

For the offense in particular, the second half rally provided a platform for several of the team's most highly-scrutinized players to stand tall and silence their critics.

Eric Decker caught the game-winning 22-yard touchdown pass with 6:06 to play. It was just his second TD grab in a Titans' uniform, making amends for a costly first half drop on the heels of three bad drops last week.

Derrick Henry was held to less than two yards per carry last week against the Jaguars despite a career-high 28 carries, but with DeMarco Murray sidelined again Saturday, he shined. The former Heisman Trophy winner exploded for a career-high 156 yards on 23 carries, including a 35-yard touchdown to make it a 21-16 game early in the fourth quarter and a 22-yard carry that iced the game away late.

Leading the way with a block on that final carry was the team's most valuable player, which continues to be Marcus Mariota despite all the worry about the quarterback's year three regression. Mariota threw a career-high 15 interceptions this season, and threw another one from just outside the red zone on a potential scoring drive in the first half Saturday.

But when the game was on the line in the second half, no. 8 was at his best. Mariota was 12-for-18 after halftime, throwing for two touchdowns, including a blooper turned highlight TD toss to himself that started the Titans second half rally.

Mariota ran eight times for 46 critical yards, including a 17-yard scramble on a critical third and eight conversion on the go ahead drive. The Titans were a perfect 7-for-7 on third downs in the second half, picking up three straight on that drive as Mariota delivered his league best fifth game-winning drive in the fourth quarter and overtime this year.

It wasn't pretty at the start. In fact, it was downright ugly, but these Titans believe they will find a way. And when they did, they were behind a quarterback that threw touchdowns, caught one, and doled out the game's biggest block.

And they did it behind their much-maligned head coach Mike Mularkey. The most criticized coach averaging nine wins a year guaranteed himself a third season in charge of the Titans with Saturday's second half rally after many people were ready to stomp on his grave at halftime.

This is still not likely to be a Super Bowl contender with teams like the Patriots and Steelers standing in the way, but after eight years with no January action, the Titans returned to the postseason in glorious fashion.

And now they, and all their fans, can just enjoy the ride for however long it lasts.

There's no more questions for now.