NFL Divisional Round: Tennessee Titans produce stunning playoff upset as the San Francisco 49ers also ease to victory

Alex Finnis
The Telegraph
The Titans pulled off a remarkable victory in Baltimore - USA TODAY Sports
The Titans pulled off a remarkable victory in Baltimore - USA TODAY Sports
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Baltimore Ravens 12 - Tennessee Titans 28

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Ryan Tannehill is four quarters away from starting in the Super Bowl… in Miami. His Tennessee Titans crushed the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday night, producing one of the most stunning playoff upsets in modern NFL history.

The Ravens came into the Divisional Round as the undoubted best team in football, and off one of the best regular season teams of the decade. MVP-elect Lamar Jackson was supposed to lead them all the way to the Lombardi Trophy.

But the Titans were playing to a different script. Mike Vrabel and his staff thoroughly outcoached John Harbaugh on the night, battering them in the trenches and taking Jackson’s favoured tight ends out of the equation, forcing him into an outside passing game.

The result was Jackson throwing the ball an unprecedented 59 times, two of which ended up in the hands of Titans defenders, including a pass which deflected off the hands of Mark Andrews and into the arms of Kevin Byard on an opening drive which set the tone for the evening.

The Titans scored 14 of their points off turnovers and crucially did not give the ball away once themselves. For the second straight week Ryan Tannehill (seven of 14, 88 yards, two TDs) had fewer than 100 yards passing as Derek Henry punished the Baltimore defense on the ground. Big No. 22 rushed 30 times for 195 yards, averaging 6.5 per carry, and was almost solely responsible for one of the more memorable touchdown drives you’ll ever see.

With the Titans already up by a score, Henry first ripped through the heart of the Ravens’ defense on a 66-yard dash. Then he took the ball at the three-yard line, and rather than power into the end zone himself, he leapt into the air and threw a touchdown pass to Corey Davis to make it 21-6 - that was the moment you realised it was meant to be Tennessee’s night.

The game could not have gone more to Vrabel’s plan. People had questioned whether the Ravens could be as effective when coming from behind, and they were forced to find out when Jonnu Smith made a stunning grab in the corner of the end zone to convert Jackson’s early interception into points.

Jackson then failed to convert a quarterback sneak on fourth-and-one, and Tennessee made them pay again. Tannehill immediately struck Kalif Raymond with a 45-yard dime over the middle of the field, and just like that they had a 14-0 lead.

The Ravens could only muster two field goals until Jackson found Hayden Hurst for a consolation score in the fourth quarter, and that was after Tannehill put the game beyond doubt with a determined rushing touchdown.

He has not been asked to do too much in these playoffs, but he’s executed everything he’s needed to do near perfectly. In the last two weeks, the man who was written off in Miami has dispatched the New England Patriots and a blisteringly hot Ravens team that seemed destined for the Super Bowl. Who could now doubt the Titans upsetting either the Kansas City Chiefs or Houston Texans next week and going all the way?

This was one of those games where the stats don’t tell anything like the whole story. The Ravens outgained the Titans 530 yards to 300. They had 29 first downs to Tennessee’s 15, and Jackson threw for 365 yards and rushed for 143 more.

<span>Lamar Jackson could not inspire his side to victory on this occasion </span> <span>Credit: Evan Habeeb/USA TODAY Sports </span>
Lamar Jackson could not inspire his side to victory on this occasion Credit: Evan Habeeb/USA TODAY Sports

But Tennessee’s early lead forced Greg Roman to abandon the run game - outside of Jackson - early on, making Baltimore play a game they did not feel comfortable with.

Now they’re back in the AFC title game for the first time since 2002, and are a game away from competing for their first Super Bowl in franchise history. No one could have predicted this 10 weeks ago - and that’s the magic of the National Football League.

San Francisco 49ers 27 - Minnesota Vikings 10

San Francisco 49ers fans, book the Monday after the Super Bowl off right now, because your team are going to be playing in it.

The Niners utterly dominated the Minnesota Vikings in every phase of the game, but especially on defense. If they produce the same kind of performance next weekend it’s hard to see either Green Bay or Seattle coming away from Levi’s Stadium with a ticket to Miami.

It took until late in the fourth quarter before the Vikings passed 100 yards from scrimmage - and that’s despite Kirk Cousins (21 of 29, 172 yards, one TD, one INT) hitting Stefon Diggs for a 41-yard touchdown on their first drive of the game. 

San Francisco’s destructive defensive line ripped through Minnesota’s pass protection and completely eliminated Dalvin Cook from the game. The star running back managed just 18 yards from nine carries, while Cousins was sacked six times - twice by rookie Nick Bosa, who was the standout player of the afternoon.

<span>Nick Bosa justified his position as a first round draft pick with an utterly dominant showing</span> <span>Credit: AP </span>
Nick Bosa justified his position as a first round draft pick with an utterly dominant showing Credit: AP

The Vikings finished with 147 total yards, seven first downs and were 2-14 on third and fourth down. They averaged just 3.3 yards per play and had the ball for 21 minutes compared to the Niners’ 38. Even those numbers don’t convey quite how emphatic this defeat was.

Their limp effort was the antithesis of last weekend’s spectacular upset win over the New Orleans Saints, and was summed up perfectly when Mike Zimmer decided to punt the ball away from his own 40 down 17 points and with just nine minutes left on the clock. Fans asked whether Zimmer realised this was a playoff game, and they had a point.

Jimmy Garoppolo was not asked to do much after orchestrating a perfectly called opening drive which resulted in a Kendrick Bourne touchdown. He went 11 of 19 for 131 yards and threw an ugly pick to Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks in the second quarter. After that he was barely asked to throw the ball again - just six times in fact, compared to 28 rushing plays.

<span>Jimmy Garoppolo delivered a composed performance in his first playoff start </span> <span>Credit: REX </span>
Jimmy Garoppolo delivered a composed performance in his first playoff start Credit: REX

Kyle Shanahan’s reversion to the run game was as effective as he could have dreamed, and the Vikings’ front seven couldn’t find an answer. Tevin Coleman re-emerged as the 49ers’ lead back, rushing 22 times for 105 yards and two touchdowns (one which capped an eight-play drive made up entirely of rushing calls), and he was supported by Raheem Mostert, who had 58 from his 12 touches.

You’d expect Garoppolo will have to step up at some point during the postseason, but right now the San Francisco defense is so red hot you could see them beating the Packers or Seahawks with a similar model.

The difference between those two teams and the Vikings is they have Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson, not Kirk Cousins. Praise was heaped on Cousins last weekend after his maiden playoff win, but he very much reverted to the player his detractors love to shovel dirt on. He did not make a single noteworthy play outside of the Diggs touchdown, and criminally whiffed on a chance to run for a first down on third-and-three in the third quarter, on a drive which could have dragged the Vikings back into the game.

For the Niners, with the Ravens eliminated over in the AFC, a first Super Bowl since 1994 feels tantalisingly close.

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