Titans to face either Steelers or Pats after stunning Chiefs
Marcus Mariota and the Tennessee Titans produced a comeback to upstage the Kansas City Chiefs and advance in the NFL playoffs.
The Titans prevailed 22-21 over the Chiefs in Saturdays' wildcard clash at Arrowhead Stadium.
Tennessee rallied from a 21-3 half-time deficit to progress to the AFC divisional round against either the Pittsburgh Steelers or reigning Super Bowl champions the New England Patriots.
Saturday's contest changed on a hit from Johnathan Cyprien, who knocked out Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce.
While the Chiefs offense struggled without their leading receiver, the Titans (10-7) opened the second half with a 15-play, 91-yard drive that ended with quarterback Mariota completing a six-yard touchdown pass to himself.
Things started out fast for the Chiefs as Tyreek Hill, who had seven catches for 87 yards, set up Kansas City's first touchdown.
The Chiefs (10-7) could not put the Titans away as Kareem Hunt, who led the NFL in rushing, was limited to just 41 yards on 10 carries by Tennessee's fourth-ranked rush defense.
TENNESSEE'S EXOTIC SMASHMOUTH RUN GAME EVENTUALLY WORE DOWN CHIEFS
Derrick Henry had been the best fourth-quarter running back all season and pounded out some tough yards on Saturday. Henry ran for 156 yards on 23 carries, including a 35-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
The Chiefs thought they had a game-winning score late as Derrick Johnson picked up an apparent Henry fumble and returned it for a touchdown. But Henry was clearly down and then ripped off a 22-yard run two plays later to seal the win. The Titans offensive line dominated Kansas City's defensive front in the second half and Tennessee controlled the clock during the comeback.
CHIEFS SHOULD NOT BE IN A HURRY TO REPLACE ALEX SMITH
Smith led the NFL in passer rating during the regular season and was superb on Saturday. Smith went 24 of 33 for 264 yards and two touchdowns. He is one of just six quarterbacks in NFL history to have at least 250 pass attempts in the playoffs and a passer rating over 95. The other five quarterbacks are Hall of Famers Joe Montana and Kurt Warner, Super Bowl champions Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers and 2016 NFL MVP Matt Ryan. Smith's passer rating on Saturday was 116.2.
Before Chiefs tight end Kelce left the game with a concussion, he caught a 13-yard touchdown pass from Smith on a perfectly placed ball.
There are some who would like to see Smith, who has one year remaining on his contract, replaced by first-round pick Patrick Mahomes. The Chiefs traded up in the 2017 NFL Draft to select Mahomes with the 10th overall pick. The Chiefs would be best-served by letting Mahomes sit one more season and keep Smith, who continues to play at a high level and Saturday's loss was not on him.
NFL'S REPLAY SYSTEM IS BROKEN
The phrase "forward progress" was trending during Saturday's game after Chiefs linebacker Johnson sacked Mariota on a delayed blitz. The result was Johnson blasted Mariota as he stood in the pocket without any forward momentum. Johnson's explosive hit jarred the ball loose and the Chiefs had a clear recovery, but referee Jeff Triplette blew the play dead because he said Mariota's forward momentum had been stopped.
Because of that ruling, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid was unable to challenge the play and the Titans ended up getting a field goal. There were a couple things extremely wrong with the play, the most obvious that Mariota was not moving forward at all so he could not have had any forward progress. The second is that Triplette's incorrect ruling made it impossible to correct the call because of the NFL's replay rule on challenges. A system that is supposed to get obvious plays right either does not allow plays to be corrected because of flawed rules or it gets too caught up in slow-motion, frame-by-frame reviews -- which was never the intent of replay.