The Tennessee Titans had to sneak into the playoffs through the back door, but they didn’t play like the lowest seed in the AFC on the way to a 20-13 victory over the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots on Saturday night at Gillette Stadium.
The wild-card Titans earned the right to play in the divisional round next weekend at M&T Bank Stadium — and they did it the hard way. No one should assume that game will be a formality for the Ravens, even if they will be well-rested and and a nearly double-digit favorite.
There is a case to be made that the Ravens would be much better off hosting the Houston Texans, who overcame a 16-point third-quarter deficit to eliminate the Buffalo Bills in the first game of a dramatic Wild Card weekend that featured two overtime games for the first time ever.
The Texans have already been to town and they took a 34-point beating in Week 11. The Ravens also beat the Bills during the regular season, but the Titans were not on their schedule.
That could be viewed as an advantage, because Tennessee hasn’t seen Lamar Jackson and the Ravens’ revolutionary offense up close. It could also be viewed from the opposite perspective, since the Ravens have not seen the new and improved Ryan Tannehill, who replaced struggling quarterback Marcus Mariota in Week 6 and came into the playoffs on quite a roll.
Tannehill completed more than 70% of his passes for 2,742 yards during his 11 regular-season games. He had 22 touchdown passes and four rushing TDs while throwing only six interceptions. In six of his last seven regular-season games, he had a passer rating of 130.8 or better.
Those numbers are important because the Ravens won’t have a whole lot to look at when they scout his performance from Saturday night, because he shifted into game-manager mode and let his team ride a dominant performance by running back Derrick Henry to that grind-it-out victory over the Pats.
Henry was simply terrific and a good New England defense did not have an answer for him. He carried the ball 34 times for 182 yards and broke Eddie George’s Titans single-game playoff record.
"We were locked in,'' Henry said in a postgame television interview. “We wanted it. It’s a great win against a great team in a hostile environment.”
Stopping Henry will be Job One for the Ravens defense next week, but the combination of the NFL’s leading rusher (1,540 yards during the regular season) and a hot veteran quarterback will be a serious challenge for the Ravens defense.
Presumably, Henry will have more trouble running downhill against the big Ravens run-stoppers. But consider this: During the Titans’ go-ahead scoring drive at the end of the first half, Henry accounted for all 75 yards — 53 of them on the ground and 22 on one big catch and run.
The Ravens have not played the Titans since Week 6 of last season, when Joe Flacco led them to a 21-0 victory in what would be his last win as the team’s franchise quarterback. Henry carried the ball just seven times for the Titans in that game.
Ravens star quarterback Lamar Jackson talks about with all the accolades he still remains humble.
Pondering the Ravens’ other playoff possibility
It looked for awhile on Saturday like the Ravens would draw a rematch with the Texans, which would have led to some lively debate during the film study of Saturday’s suspenseful victory over the Bills.
Would they get the team that looked helpless for the first 40 minutes of the wild-card game, or the one that suddenly woke up on both sides of the ball to stage a furious comeback before winning on a 28-yard field goal by Ka’imi Fairbairn in overtime?
For that matter, would they get the Deshaun Watson who brought his team back from a 16-point deficit with a La-marvelous 20-yard touchdown run and a short touchdown pass to running back Carlos Hyde, or the quarterback who wasn’t much of a factor in that ugly 34-point loss to the Ravens in Week 11?
We’ll never know, but the Ravens probably will be happy to miss the rejuvenated defensive superstar J.J. Watt, who came back early from surgery to repair a torn pectoral and delivered a huge sack that helped shift the momentum in the game. That is, unless the Ravens and Texans end up meeting in the AFC championship game.
Hard times in The Big Easy
The New Orleans Saints just can’t get a break. They were knocked out of the postseason by the Minnesota Vikings for the second time in the last three seasons and — perhaps more galling — lost on a controversial pass interference no-call for the second year in a row.
It wasn’t as egregious as last year’s PI controversy that kept them out of the Super Bowl, but when Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph scored the winning touchdown in overtime, he clearly pushed off cornerback P.J. Williams and pushed the Saints out of the playoffs with a 26-20 victory at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The Saints wanted the play reviewed in New York, but the greater irony of the whole situation was that league officials weren’t going to touch the situation with a 10-foot pole, even though the NFL created PI review system because of the injustice suffered by the Saints last season.
Carson Wentz gets knocked out, and so do Eagles
The Seattle Seahawks stayed alive with a 17-9 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles and will move on to face the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field, but their path to the divisional round was made much easier by a helmet-to-helmet hit by Jadeveon Clowney that knocked Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz out of the game in the first quarter.
Wentz was diving for yardage and was on the ground when Clowney slammed head first into the side of his helmet. Inexplicably, there was no penalty flag thrown on the play, but it seems highly likely that Clowney will face a heavy fine for the hit.
That will be small consolation to the Eagles, who had to turn the game over to 40-year-old backup Josh McCown. He was able to move the offense and kept the Eagles in the game until late in the fourth quarter, but ran out of downs on a couple of late trips into the red zone.