HOUSTON -- The Tennessee Titans have clinched the final AFC playoff spot thanks to their 35-14 win over the Houston Texans. The win sets up a visit to New England to face the Patriots in the first round of the NFL playoffs Saturday at 8:15 p.m.
The two teams spent time together this summer during joint practices in training camp. Now Titans coach Mike Vrabel faces the team with which he made a name for himself as a player in his first playoff game as a head coach.
Much like it has for most of the season, Tennessee rode the hot hands of Ryan Tannehill, A.J. Brown and Derrick Henry to the win on Sunday. Henry helped fuel the Titans' success in the second half of the season. He picked up 211 rushing yards against Houston, giving him 1,540 this season. Henry finished the year as the NFL's leading rusher.
"He's got all of the talent in the world. I'm just happy to be his left tackle and block for him. He makes us look good," Taylor Lewan said. "But now it doesn't mean s---. We have to go to the playoffs and start rushing for more records so we can keep going."
Added Henry: "If they're going to feed me, I have to get it in. That's the mentality of running the football. If they'll feed it to me, I have to get it into the end zone. ... We have a relentless attitude and believe in one another and what we're doing as a team in all three phases. We just kept fighting and focused on finishing each and every drive. It speaks volumes for the offense and what we were able to accomplish as a whole."
It was his sixth 100-yard rushing game this season, the most by a Titans player since Chris Johnson had eight in 2010. The Titans are 5-0 this season when Henry runs for 100 yards or more. Henry has 16 rushing touchdowns this season, the second most in a season in Titans history. The franchise record is 19 rushing touchdowns in a season by Earl Campbell in 1979, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
Brown finished the game with four receptions for 124 yards and a touchdown. He became the first Titans rookie wideout to gain at least 1,000 receiving yards since Ernest Givins did so in 1986. One of Brown's receptions resulted in a 51-yard touchdown. That gave him four catches of 50 yards or more -- the most by a rookie since Hall of Famer Randy Moss had five in 1998. Since the 1970 merger, the only other rookies with at least that many 50-yard receptions are Isaac Curtis (5 in 1973) and Willie Gault (4 in 1983), according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Before becoming an NFL player, Brown was a New England Patriots fan. New England could have selected Brown in the first round of the 2019 NFL draft, but elected to select N'Keal Harry with the 32nd pick. Being passed up by the Patriots doesn't make next week's game any more special for Brown.
"As soon as I got drafted to the Tennessee Titans, I no longer became a fan. But this is going to be a good game. It is what it is. We have to play regardless, so it doesn't matter," Brown said.
Tannehill took over as the starting quarterback in Week 7 and led the Titans to a 7-3 record and a playoff berth. The Titans' offense soared from 19th in red zone touchdown percentage to tops in the NFL with Tannehill under center. He led Tennessee on a four-game winning streak in which the offense scored 30 or more points in every game. It's safe to say GM Jon Robinson's decision to trade for Tannehill before the season has paid off.
"It's exciting. It's my first time playing in a playoff game which is something that I looked forward to for a long time. That's why we play. You compete. I love to win," Tannehill said. "Each and every year you set out and try to do everything you can to put yourself and your team in a position to compete for a championship. Through the ups and downs this year, we were able to fight through and put ourselves in the dance. It'll be fun. It's a place I know well and a team I know well, so we're looking forward to the opportunity."