By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Tennessee Titans. Whoa, doggy. What a story.
When the Titans went into Foxboro and eked out a narrow win against the Patriots, the football world reacted properly. No, this year’s Patriots team wasn’t great, but winning in Foxboro in January against Brady and Belichick is no small feat. A good moment for the sixth-seeded Titans, who will now get their doors blown off in Baltimore. There’s no shame in that.
The only shame in our reaction was that we failed to recognize the distinct possibility that the Titans would stroll into Baltimore and whoop the feculence out of the best team in the NFL. And make no mistake: That was a whoooooooooooping.
It was awesome. We all know that by now. But here’s what we don’t know.
Are the Titans going to go the route of the 2007 Giants/2001 Patriots, or are they going to go the route of the 2010 Jets?
It’s ancient history now, but the 2010 Jets had a dynamite start to their postseason run. They went into Indy on a Saturday night in the wild card round and beat Peyton Manning. The Colts took a two-point lead with 53 seconds left in the fourth quarter, but Antonio Cromartie returned the ensuing kick 47 yards. Mark Sanchez then went 3-for-3 for 38 yards. To repeat: Mark Sanchez then went 3-for-3 for 38 yards!
(I had to go back on GamePass to verify this with my own eyes.)
Nick Folk kicked a 32-yard chip shot as time expired to lift the sixth-seeded Jets over the Colts. An upset for the ages.
But it wasn’t going to mean a damn thing, because the Jets only bought themselves a ticket to Foxboro, where they had lost 45-3 (and it wasn’t even that close) on Monday Night Football just a month earlier. Sure, the Jets did beat the Patriots that season, but it was all the way back in Week 2. Surely, this was a mismatch of tremendous proportions, and the nice playoff win in Indy would serve as the grand accomplishment of the 2010 Jets.
And then … Tom Brady threw a pick to David Harris. It was Brady’s first pick in about a thousand throws. (Actual number: 339.) Mark Sanchez was nearly perfect. To repeat: Mark Sanchez was nearly perfect! The Jets led 14-3 at halftime, and 21-11 early in the fourth quarter, and 28-14 with under two minutes left. A late meaningless touchdown made the final score 28-21, but that was just window dressing. The Jets waltzed into Foxboro and beat up the best team in the NFL.
The Jets, to borrow a bad pun, were flying high.
A win in Indy against the Colts. A win in Foxboro against the Patriots. A Super Bowl trip, a homecoming for LaDainian Tomlinson, a coronation for Rex Ryan, the ascent of Mark Sanchez, it was all happening, and there was nothing anybody could do to stop it.
Except for the Steelers. They stopped it. They stopped it real quick.
Despite a Week 15 win in Pittsburgh, the Jets were no match for the Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger and Rashard Mendenhall helped Pittsburgh get out to a 17-0 lead, and it stretched to 24-0 when William Gay returned a Sanchez fumble 19 yards for a touchdown. The rout was on.
The Jets fought in the second half, making the final score of 24-19 look respectable. But the game was never in doubt, and the potentially historic Jets season ended with the team watching Roethlisberger taking three kneeldowns to drain the clock.
Outside of killing the Super Bowl dreams of the Manning and Brady, the Jets’ outstanding postseason run amounted to … diddly-poo.
The flip side of that sad tale would be the ’07 Giants, whom nobody expected to make any real run for a title, not with the 13-3 Cowboys or 13-3 Packers or 16-0 Patriots to contend with. Yet you know how that story ended.
Likewise, the 2001 Patriots — a team Mike Vrabel might be familiar with — were a fun little story with their new quarterback and all, but they weren’t going to beat Oakland, they certainly weren’t going to beat Pittsburgh, and they most definitely were not going to beat the mighty St. Louis Rams.
Those two teams authored some historic playoff wins, and they made them matter by finishing the deal. The Titans’ run thus far has been incredible, but if they want it to actually matter, there’s quite a bit of work to be done.
Will they do it?
(Home team in CAPS; Friday lines)
Tennessee (+7.5) over KANSAS CITY
Uhh. YEAH, they’re going to do it.
I recognize that we’re all supposed to be staring in awe at the fact that the Chiefs put up about 1,000 points over a 35-minute span or whatever last weekend. And, I mean, it was a spectacular showing.
But they were also playing the HOUSTON TEXANS. In the PLAYOFFS. If you look through the playoff history of the Houston Texans, you’d be hard-pressed to find any one of their losses and say, “Oh. Oh dear. That was a mighty impressive showing from their opponent.” Quite the opposite, actually. The Patriots played one of their worst games of the 2016 season against Houston in the divisional round but STILL won the game by 18 points. The Texans are now 0-4 in the divisional round in their history. They’re 4-2 in the wild card round, with big wins against the likes of Connor Cook, Andy Dalton (twice), and most recently Josh Allen.
So, long story short: Throw all postseason accomplishments vs. Houston out the window. Irrelevant.
And if you’re looking at this game, the Chiefs have a problem. A big one. The problem’s name is Derrick Henry.
The Chiefs’ other problem’s name is A Truly Stinky Rush Defense. This year, the Chiefs ranked 26th in rushing defense, allowing 128.2 yards per game. In terms of yards per carry? Even worse. They ranked 29th, allowing 4.93 yards per rushing attempt.
Henry, the NFL’s rushing champion, is on a freakish stretch that looks like this over the past three games: 588 yards on 96 attempts, a ridiculous 6.1-yard average, with four touchdowns. He’s also caught three passes for 29 yards this postseason, and he threw a touchdown last Saturday night, just to be rude.
What a jerk!
Henry also ran for 188 yards and two touchdowns on just 23 carries when the Titans won in Kansas City earlier this year. That’s an … 8.2-yard average.
Derrick Henry is a problem.
The only hope the Chiefs have of containing him is praying that the man gets tired.
I bet you five dollars that this man does not get tired.
Earl Thomas during the week: “Guys [on the Patriots] didn’t seem like they was too interested in tackling him. I think our mindset is a little different. We’re gonna try to tackle him, try to swarm and we going to see how it plays out.”
Earl on Saturday night: pic.twitter.com/gJcGxbejUy
— Michael Hurley (@michaelFhurley) January 12, 2020
Of course, Patrick Mahomes’ offense is an absolute hoot, and they should be able to put points on the board. Stopping Mahomes/Kelce/Hill/Williams/Watkins/etc. is at times impossible.
But I’ve seen the Chiefs enter an AFC Championship Game at home with a dreadful run defense, and I watched Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead transform into Walter Payton and Gale Sayers before my very eyes.
I’ve also seen Andy Reid bungle his way through six conference championship games, compiling a killer 1-5 record. (The lone win came against the perfectly mediocre Falcons of 2004, too.) I’ve seen him compile an overall playoff coaching record of 13-14. I haven’t seen any part of his playoff coaching improving.
I expect to see the Titans’ tremendous run to live on for a couple of more weeks.
Hey, Mike, What’s The Score?
I don’t know. I’ll pick the games against the spread, but I’m not foolish enough to think that I can predict the score. I’m not a psychop–
And in the late game …
SAN FRANCISCO (-7.5) over Green Bay
You know I love me a good upset, but as far as conference finalists go, the Packers are quite underwhelming. (Shoutout to the 2014 Colts, the most underwhelming CONFERENCE FINALIST that history will never forget.)
They’re 13-3, sure, but they’re among the least impressive 13-win teams I can recall. Of the four remaining teams, the Packers had the weakest strength of schedule — by a wide margin.
2019 STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
Kansas City, .510
San Francisco, .504
Green Bay, .453
They’re also fourth out of four in strength of victory.
2019 STRENGTH OF VICTORY
Kansas City, .477
San Francisco, .466
Green Bay, .428
And while the country may be giddy with the idea of A) Aaron Rodgers returning to the Super Bowl for the first time in almost a decade, and B) a Super Bowl I rematch between the Chiefs and Packers, the number crunchers over at NFL Media’s research department have been throwing some cold water on that idea all week.
Aaron Rodgers’ last 5 playoff losses all came to teams he also lost to that regular season. … The 49ers beat Rodgers 37-8 in Week 12.
That isn’t great. Neither is this:
Aaron Rodgers faces the 49ers’ No. 1 pass defense Sunday.
Rodgers against No. 1 pass defenses, including playoffs:
1-4 record (0-4 on the road)
4 pass TD, 4 INT
72.2 passer rating
Well that isn’t good.
You could add this, too:
Richard Sherman has as many catches (1 INT) as he has allowed in coverage (1 reception) in two career NFC Championship appearances (both wins).
Rodgers is pretty great, but the Green Bay offense is meh-rific. Going against the NFC’s best defense seems like a little bit of an issue. If the Packers had some great defense, then maybe we could have a chat. But I fully expect this week’s game to be as boring as last week’s Niners win over Minnesota. When you’re just better than the opponent, a boring game is generally what you get. (That is, provided Kyle Shanahan doesn’t go full Super Bowl LI on the world.)
Cool, Mike, So What’s The Score?
Listen, again, you want the score and I just don’t have the ego or audacity to think that I ca–
Thanks to NFL Media’s research department for essentially doing all of my thinking for this one. It’s been a long year. We could all use a little break.
Last week: 3-1
Regular season: (It was bad do I really have to share? Really? C’mon. Fine.)
Regular season: 116-133-5