Tennessee Titans 22
Kansas City Chiefs 21
Saturday, January 6 th , 4:35 pm EST.
This game was a tale of two halves, with Kansas City scoring the game’s first two touchdowns, then Tennessee shutting the Chiefs out in the second half, and scoring nineteen unanswered to close out the game, and the home team’s playoff dreams. Titans fans; you know that the football gods are on your side when Marcus Mariota throws a touchdown pass… to himself. Just saying.
Before this game, I mentioned that Kansas City’s offense goes as rookie RB Kareem Hunt goes. The Chiefs are 7-1 when he averages over 4.5 yards per carry. Put simply, Hunt couldn’t go anywhere against the stout rush defense of the Titans, who held him to under four yards per carry and a total of forty-two yards on the ground. When Hunt struggles, the Chiefs struggle, and he struggled mightily. Across the field, running back concerns for the Titans turned into a first-rate coming out party for Derrick Henry. The second year back has spent the season as part of tandem at running back for Tennessee, but the injury to DeMarco Murray has thrust him into the spotlight. His response to the challenge was nothing short of epic. Twenty-three carries for 156 yards and a touchdown, plus two receptions for 35 yards. That’s not the stat line of a guy who can’t handle the load.
I’m sure Chiefs fans will be quick to point out that the injury to TE Travis Kelce was a major factor in the outcome. You wouldn’t be wrong either. In the first half, Kelce had four receptions for 66 yards and a touchdown before his entry into the concussion protocol after a rough blow to the helmet. Kelce was clearly shaken after the hit, struggling to stand before eventually walking off under his own power. Kelce has been one of the Chief’s top receiving threats this season with over a thousand yards and eight touchdowns. With him in the lineup for the second half, the Chiefs could well have put up enough points to maintain their lead.
Chiefs fans are openly considering the future and wondering of the team will move on to Patrick Mahomes over the offseason. The team struggled mightily through the middle of the season, and I think a change is likely. This is a Chiefs team that has amazing potential, but has never really broken through and QB Alex Smith, while more than serviceable from a statistical standpoint, has never shown the ability to elevate his teammates. A solid performance in the season-ending road win over Denver was likely enough to win Mahomes the job for next year.
From the other sideline, you see Marcus Mariota, in his first career NFL playoff game, throwing his shoulder into a defender to spring RB Derrick Henry for twenty-two yards on a third-and- ten play that iced the one-point win for the Titans. The block didn’t go unnoticed on the Titans sideline, which erupted partly for the scamper from Henry, but primarily for their leader’s bravado with the game on the line. They’ll need all of that and then some when they head to Foxboro next weekend for a matchup with the reigning NFL champions.
Image source: twitter.com/chiefs
Tom Capo writes about sports, parenting, food, wine and travel; but seldom all at once. He’s currently working on his first novel and collection of shorter fiction. He lives in the Bay Area with all of his girls; wife Allison, daughter Liliana and dog Artemis.