In a critical game, the Tennessee Titans delivered.
They travelled to Airhead Stadium on Sunday and beat the Kansas City Chiefs, 19-17, thanks to a 53-yard field goal from Ryan Succop at the end of regulation.
Let’s recap some highlights from the game.
1. The Titans will enter the playoffs with two more wins
After beating the Broncos in Week 14, the Titans had control of their postseason destiny. Wins on the remaining schedule — at Kansas City, at Jacksonville and versus Houston — would earn the AFC South title and guarantee entry to the playoffs.
Last week, if someone were considering those three opponents, there is little doubt that they would identify the Chiefs as the greatest test. Now that Tennessee has overcome the challenge, they are one step closer to entering the postseason for the first time since 2008.
2. Ryan Succop did not expect to convert from 53-yards
With 3:12 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Titans’ chances of winning looked bleak.
They had just missed a two-point conversion, which would have given them the lead. They trailed the Chiefs by one-point (16-17). And they were kicking off with zero timeouts remaining.
Dick LaBeau’s defense did their part, though. They forced a quick three-and-out, Kansas City punted, and quarterback Marcus Mariota completed three passes to bring the Titans within range of a 53-yard field goal attempt. Five second remained on the game clock.
Luck came in at this point. Succop missed his first attempt, but it did not count since Chiefs’ head coach Andy Reid had called a timeout beforehand in an attempt to the ice the kicker. On the following play, Succop converted and time had expired.
“You give me ten kicks from [53-yards], and I don’t know if I can make one,” said Succop. “Honestly, today in the weather, in the cold, and just kicking a frozen football … I can’t imagine anything better than this.”
Head coach Mike Mularkey praised tight end Delanie Walker for making the reception that brought the Titans to the 35-yardline before Succop’s attempt.
“I give Delanie a lot of credit,” Mularkey said. “If Delanie turns and goes the other way, [he] gets tackled on the 40. Delanie just made a great play on the throw by Marcus and got us where we needed to be. That’s what big-time playmakers do.”
3. Titans offense executed in the red zone
The Titans offense certainly had a number of blunders against the Chiefs’ defense.
Receiver Rishard Matthews fumbled and lost the football on the team’s second possession. Mariota lost a fumble and threw an interception within a 13 minute timespan. And when the Titans were looking to overcome a 14-point deficit, a holding foul by Quinton Spain negated a 26-yard run by Mariota.
The offense was perfect, however, when the Titans entered the red zone.
Tennessee scored both times they entered the Kansas City 20-yardline. The first was a 4-yard touchdown run by Derrick Henry in the second quarter. The second was a 1-yard touchdown run by Henry with three minutes remaining in the game.
According to Scott Miller of ESPN, the Titans have scored a touchdown on 72.7 percent of zone trips this season. That not only tops the league in 2016 but also is the third best seasonal rank among NFL teams through the past five years.
4. Rookies Jack Conklin, Derrick Henry, and LeShaun Sims had a great performance
A number of Titans’ players had strong performances on Sunday.
Linebacker Brian Orakpo recorded his 11th sack of the season, tying the number of sacks he made during his rookie year with Washington. Running back DeMarco Murray had 141 yards of total offense. And wideout Rishard Mathews eclipsed 100 receiving yards for the second time this season.
However, among every player on the field, three rookies shined.
Right tackle Jack Conklin limited Justin Houston to zero tackles on 51 snaps. Derrick Henry averaged 6.4 yards per carry and scored both of Tennessee’s touchdowns. And LeShaun Sims was the highest graded player for Tennessee per Pro Football Focus, as he allowed just one reception for four yards on five targets and intercepted an intended pass to receiver Jeremy Maclin in the third quarter.
Sims also played well against the run, said Mularkey.
“The one thing he is doing that gets talked a lot about is his run support. He is a physical player. He is not afraid to stick his nose in there, and it is nice to have a corner who will do that in support.”
Sims performance was especially helpful since veteran cornerback Jason McCourty was sidelined early in the matchup due to a chest injury.
5. Titans can extend their win steak to four games next week at Jacksonville
Next on the schedule the Titans travel to Everbank Field to face the Jacksonville Jaguars. When they met earlier in the season at Nissan Stadium, the Titans won readily, 36-22.
If Tennessee can win this matchup, they will have a four-game win streak, which is more wins than they garnered during the 2015 and 2014 seasons. A win would also push the Titans one step closer to the playoffs.
Kickoff is 12:00 PM CST on December 24th.