OAKLAND, Calif. -- If they lost, they couldn’t have kept talking playoffs.
So when the Tennessee Titans got the ball trailing by three points with 6:10 remaining in regulation, their season was in the balance.
They saved it, for the time being at least, with a clutch drive. Birthday boy Ryan Fitzpatrick connected on 8 of 10 passes for 67 of the 80 yards Tennessee needed, capping it with a third-down, 10-yard scoring pass to Kendall Wright.
It was a beautifully executed, well-synchronized drive. They got to the end zone on third down. Had they missed, they would have kicked a short field goal and settled for overtime.
The Titans got the touchdown, left just 10 seconds for the Raiders, and headed home with a 23-19 win and a 5-6 record that has them in a pack of six teams at that mark contending for the last AFC playoff berth.
“At the end of the day, we knew our time was running out,” said running back Chris Johnson, who carried 20 times for 73 yards. “It was kind of like do or die. Like we were saying all throughout the week, our playoffs start now.”
Said Fitzpatrick: “That would have been a big, big loss for us in terms of what the rest of the season was going to look like. So we knew this was a gotta-have-it drive at the end of the game. The guys really stepped up and did a good job…
“Hopefully we’ll capture some momentum from this .... My biggest thing is, the win was great, but that feeling on that drive in the huddle, the confidence everybody had. I mean that’s why you play the game, to go out there and have that type of feeling. And to actually deliver on it.”
We’ve discussed how Fitzpatrick is a streaky quarterback.
When he relieved Jake Locker against the Jets and then started in losses to the Chiefs and Seahawks, he threw two touchdowns, four interceptions and posted a 61.2 passer rating.
Since he relieved Locker against Jacksonville and started games against the Colts and Raiders, he’s thrown five touchdowns, no picks and posted a 110.7 passer rating.
He was under near constant pressure against Oakland, but ran five times for 26 yards and got out of trouble for throwaways on several more occasions while taking two sacks. He was 30-of-42 for 320 yards and two TDs. The Titans' offense got over 100 yards receiving from second-year receiver Wright and rookie Justin Hunter.
Still, it was a sloppy offensive effort, featuring 10 penalties for 100 yards -- six of them holding -- and five drops. They are the sorts of mistakes a good team shouldn’t be making at this stage of the season and the sorts of mistakes the Titans haven’t often overcome. But on this day, the Titans endured, didn’t get discouraged and beat a team they should beat.
Mike Munchak often talks about overcoming adversity, and he can show his team this game as a blueprint for just what he’s talking about. Quarterback Matt McGloin made plays for the Raiders in just his second NFL start, and little known wide receivers Rod Streater and Andre Holmes caught seven passes between them for a 17.8-yard average.
But a defense that has struggled to hold opponents to field goals came alive at the right times, forcing Sebastian Janikowski onto the field for six attempts. He missed two of them wide left.
“That took a lot of points off the board,” cornerback Jason McCourty said. “Those are all, we call them, four-point plays when we can make the kick there instead of getting that touchdown. They even missed two field goals.”
The Titans seemed to have a different feel than late in recent games. They got the ball back trailing and weren’t acting defeated. They were a team not content to force overtime but determined to win.
“The defense, they’ve been coming up for us all year,” Johnson said. “They’ve been making stops for us, getting turnovers. This was just a situation where we wanted as an offensive unit to take advantage, not put it in the defense’s hands. We wanted to win the game on our own.”