The Tennessee Titans are the only team in the NFL that features a Heisman Trophy winning backfield, and it took a heroic effort from both for the Tennessee Titans to win their first playoff game in 14 years.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota and running back Derrick Henry not only sparked one of the most improbable comebacks in playoff history, but they also found personal redemption in the process.
Mariota was much maligned all season. Tennessee’s offense was erratic and inconsistent all year-long. Mariota threw more interceptions than touchdowns for the first time in his career, leading to questions about the validity of him being a true franchise quarterback.
After securing a playoff berth with a highlight-reel stiff arm on Jacksonville safety Barry Church last week, media outlets still questioned Mariota’s ability to lead a team to postseason success.
Today he answered those questions in resounding fashion.
Mariota overcame a sluggish first half filled with miscues, mistakes, and a turnover to lead a second half comeback for the ages.
Calling his own plays while working out of the no-huddle almost exclusively the entire second half, Mariota sliced and diced Kansas City’s defense with his arm and legs. His touchdown pass to himself in the third quarter will be played for generations to come, but his game-winning touchdown pass to Eric Decker was the stuff that legends are made of.
Mariota’s second half heroics through the air and on the ground reminded many of the late great Steve McNair, the last quarterback to lead the Titans to a playoff victory.
His performance was Heisman-esque…as was his backfield counterpart’s.
Derrick Henry stood before the media last week as a humbled man after his first real shot at being the Titans’ feature back. Filling in for injured starter DeMarco Murray, the second year backup managed just 1.8 yards per carry on 28 attempts against the Jaguars.
He said that he ran soft at the post game press conference…which is a curse word in the testosterone filled, ego driven, macho world of professional football.
Henry’s performance as the lead back last week did little to convince coaches that he was indeed the man of the future, but Murray’s injury kept him out again this week…paving the way for a chance at redemption.
And this time he left no doubt with an electryfying performance on the biggest stage of his career.
Henry ran angry today and bulldozed the Chiefs’ defense for a career high 156 yards, averaging a whopping 6.8 yards per carry. His 35 yard touchdown cut the deficit to 5 early in the fourth quarter, and it was apparent that Kansas City’s defense wanted no part of him as the game came to a close.
The epitome of smash mouth football.
Henry’s ability to chew up yards in chunks also kept the Chief’s high-powered offense on the sidelines for virtually the entire second half, giving Tennessee’s defense the rest they needed to pitch a second half shutout.
Mariota and Henry were the most scrutinized players heading into this playoff game, so it is only fitting they were the co-mvp’s. An awesome sight to see Mariota spring Henry for the game-clinching first down on the team’s final drive with a pivitol block to pave the way.
Regardless of who they play or what happens next, Mariota and Henry proved they are more than Heisman winners…
They are winners…period.