Happy 2024 it is indeed, boys and girls! Tennessee is 1-0 in the new year and, sure, we may not be in the playoffs, but we witnessed the next best thing. If you’re going through hell, bring your enemy down there with you. The Titans understood yesterday’s season finale had large ramifications in regard to who would inevitably win the AFC South and wrap up the final two Wild Card spots in the conference. Taking on the role of puppet master is a bizarre position when 5-11, but that’s exactly where they stood and, boy, did they make these teams dance like little dolls.
Coming into the afternoon, the overarching scenario was simple. Titans lose and the Jacksonville Jaguars repeat as AFC South Champs. Titans win and the Jags are sitting next to us on the couch waiting for Father Time to pass until April’s NFL Draft. The trickle down, however, was much more complicated.
A Jacksonville “L” would have ripple effects all over the league. Houston, Buffalo, and Pittsburgh fans were all repping the two-toned blue in spirit. The Texans would be propelled into the fourth seed as division champions and secure a home game in the Wild Card round versus Cleveland following Saturday evening’s thrilling victory over Indy.
The Bills, who would eventually clinch the AFC East Sunday night in Miami, could at least breathe a sigh of relief knowing they’d automatically be in if the Titans pulled through prior to learning their own result. Finally, all of Steeler Nation’s hopes and postseason aspirations hung in the balance as they remained glued to their plasma screens during every heart pounding snap. Hell, CBS even discovered some fans in black and yellow at Nissan Stadium vibrantly cheering on the Titans.
Well, to those three cities listed above - YOU ARE WELCOME! From Tennessee’s opening offensive possession, the Titans’ O took control. Ryan Tannehill was a man out to prove a point in what was almost certainly his final game calling Nissan home. The 35-year-old veteran quarterback led the young squad on a 7 play, 75 yard drive capped off by a 28 yard touchdown pass to rookie Tyjae Spears. The tone was set.
Jags QB Trevor Lawrence would counter with a 59 yard strike to Calvin Ridley to jump back in front 10-7, but his prior shoulder injury would catch up to him and it showed. The following two Jacksonville possessions ended with egregious interceptions and the Titans would zoom out to a 21-10 advantage they refused to surrender. Simply, the home team wanted this game more and they were rewarded with their best victory of the season.
Sunday’s 28-20 win may only serve as a bandaid on an otherwise hemorrhaged 2023 campaign for Tennessee, but if it were to be Derrick Henry’s and Ryan Tannehill’s last appearance in Titan uniforms there was no better way of going out. Make no mistake, General Manager Ran Carthon and company have plenty of work to do this offseason in regard to a rebuild with over $75 million in cap space and the 7th overall pick in the draft (side note: a loss would have put Tennessee only one spot forward at 6th). Nevertheless, the Titans’ faithful were sent home smiling from Nissan and a bitter enemy was expelled from a playoff bid.
Out of a pitch black night with no end in sight, hopes are suddenly riding high after a shocking season finale plot twist.