Gritty Titans 1 win from clinching AFC South after big rally
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Titans know how to fight and not quit, no matter how ugly a game might be.
That’s the biggest reason why the Titans are a win, or an Indianapolis loss, from clinching their second straight AFC South title with two games remaining. A team that has had 88 different players on the field in a season, the most ever in a non-strike season, never gives up — even when down 10-0 at halftime.
The Titans turned in their latest comeback Thursday night, beating the San Francisco 49ers 20-17 in a game where the left half of their offensive line was sidelined and the left tackle’s replacement also was out because of a positive COVID-19 test.
Tennessee is 7-1 against 2020 playoff teams. Better yet, the Titans are 6-2 against teams currently in the upcoming playoff field.
Coach Mike Vrabel certainly hopes Thursday’s victory can be pivotal beyond just clinching a fourth playoff berth in five seasons for this franchise. And playing good football is a must this time of year.
“I think this certainly can help us in the nature in which we won it, the grittiness in which it was won with,” Vrabel said Friday. “Hopefully we can do some of those things and continue to carry that over into the next week.”
Next man up is an NFL cliche that the Titans have leaned on heavily in a season where they’re running through players. Rookie Dillon Radunz became the 52nd different starter when left tackle Taylor Lewan was scratched with a back injury and Kendall Lamm tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday morning.
Radunz played every snap of his first career start in prime time, and was part of a makeshift line that gave Ryan Tannehill the time to rally the Titans and post his 13th game-winning drive since arriving in Nashville.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Pass protection. Even with the Titans keeping a tight end in to help protect Tannehill, they gave up four more sacks. Tannehill has been sacked a league-high 45 times, just ahead of Cincinnati QB Joe Burrow (44).
A.J. Brown. The 2020 Pro Bowler turned in one of the best games of his young career hours after coming off injured reserve for a chest injury. He caught a career-high 11 passes for 145 yards and a touchdown. Better yet, he was responsible for 69.4% of the Titans’ receiving yards — most by any NFL player in a game this season with a minimum of 200 total team yards.
The Titans and Brown were at their best on third down: Eight of his catches came on third down, the most by any NFL player since at least 1978.
“I have so much fun throwing the ball to him,” Tannehill said. “He finds a way to get open. He is big, he is physical, he’s good with the ball in his hands and he makes plays on the ball. He is everything you look for in a wide receiver, and I have a ton of confidence throwing him the football.”
Punter Brett Kern. The three-time Pro Bowler averaged only 39.6 yards net against the Niners on five punts. The punter who’s skilled at avoiding touchbacks had his first punt roll into the end zone on a 54-yarder, then followed up with a 39-yarder. But his last punt was his best, a 59-yarder downed at the Niners 5.
Left tackle Taylor Lewan, who missed the 49ers’ game with a back issue, joined left guard Rodger Saffold on the reserve/COVID-19 list Friday, making that three offensive linemen on the list.
0 — After 13 turnovers over three of the last four games, all losses, the Titans won the turnover battle by not losing the ball once. Tennessee came up with two interceptions.
Sit back and watch to see whether the Colts lose on Christmas night, because it would clinch the division for Tennessee. Also the team will rest, taking advantage of this mini-bye before hosting Miami on Jan. 2 and going to Houston for the regular-season finale.
Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker
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