My favourite sports story to date on this turbulent new decade? That’s easy. It’s the Tennessee Titans—football anarchists, lobbing stink bombs into all of the anticipated story traces of these NFL playoffs.
How delightfully disruptive it’s been, watching this underestimated road dog of a team, as soon as widely considered lucky just to be here, mow through the dreaded Patriots in Foxborough, and now the top-seeded Ravens on a warm and gloomy evening Baltimore.
What’s going on right here? Didn’t the Titans finish 9-7? Aren’t they playing with a promoted backup quarterback?
Aren’t they, you already know, the Tennessee Titans?
That is like watching a random wedding guest show up, give a 20-minute toast to the bride and groom and sing 10 songs with the band. And then march off with the whole cake.
Now the Titans get the Chiefs in Kansas City next Sunday for a shot on the Super Bowl.
Are the Chiefs scared? I know they’ll score 4 million points in, like, 45 seconds, like they proved Sunday in a daffy comeback win over the Houston Texans.
If the Chiefs aren’t scared, they need to at the least be nervous. The Titans are not to be ignored.
The grizzly football smashmouthers are giddy, because the Titans play the old way, which is to say, largely on the bottom, straight up the intestine, without much sizzle or clever scheme work. They’ve a running again, Derrick Henry, who looks and performs like two working backs fused collectively—at 6-foot-3, 250 pounds or so, Henry is about twice the size of the current fashion. He’s on a historic romp, racking up 195 yards versus Baltimore after 182 yards against New England and, oh yeah, he put up 211 on the Texans in Tennessee’s regular-season finale. (Though I’m beginning to feel I might score 48 points on the Texans.)
Henry even threw a landing cross in Saturday’s AFC divisional round win. (I assume you’d name that intelligent schemework.) Extra important, and alarmingly for opponents, he’s obtained that look, you recognize, that look nice gamers get when the sport is slowing down for them, they usually really feel they don’t seem to be simply on track, however on a mission, and they’re beginning to actually, really consider in all that corny Staff of Future stuff.
Are the Chiefs frightened of Henry? How will you not be? Tackling him is like attempting to sort out an Amtrak.
And but these Titans are greater than Henry. Good protection, good particular groups, the Greatest Rattling Punter in Soccer, Brett Kern. As an outfit, they’re taking part in with a collective, nearly blasé fearlessness—a swagger embodied by head coach Mike Vrabel, a former Patriots and Chiefs hulk who seems to be like he nonetheless needs to play 20 snaps a recreation. Vrabel appears solely unimpressed with any vaunted opponent’s aura or snarky pregame chit-chat.
He is aware of you didn’t anticipate his club to be here—he doesn’t care.
Final week the Titans marched into Gillette Stadium and poured chilly water on any suggestion of a sentimental playoff run for the defending champions, and throwing all of New England into an existential disaster about the doable finish of the Tom Brady-Invoice Belichick period.
Then the Titans dissected the Ravens in Baltimore, which was much more spectacular. Tennessee’s defense was stellar, and that former back-up quarterback—Ryan Tannehill, a recovering Dolphin who took over in October for Tennessee’s struggling Marcus Mariota—performed admirably unfazed, throwing two early TD passes because the Titans shushed a presumptuous Maryland crowd that had been googling Super Bowl resort rooms on South Seaside.
There’s a bad hangover in Baltimore—that Ravens membership went 14-2 and gave the impression to be a legit title contenders—and there’s been some second-guessing about the staff’s prolonged post-clinch layoff and Lamar Jackson’s continued postseason wobbles, as if to recommend the Titans didn’t actually win, however the Ravens bungled it and forked it over.
Reality examine: UNTRUE.