Thanksgiving is one of the most embraced and celebrated holidays of the year. It’s a day where food, family, friends, and football come together under the umbrella of being thankful for what we have and who we share our lives with.
In the case of the Tennessee Titans, who are 5-5 and alive in the divisional and wild card playoff race, there were 5 notable plays this season that kept them afloat amid countless injuries and obstacles.
Today we highlight them.
1. Air Byard pulls a fast one on the TexansEmbed from Getty Images
Tennessee limped into their week 2 match up with the Houston Texans as a beaten and beat up team after not only losing the regular season opener to Miami, but also losing Marcus Mariota (elbow), Taylor Lewan (concussion), and Delanie Walker (season-ending ankle injury) in that game.
All three would miss this critical early season contest against a divisional rival.
With a back up qb, and the 4th and 5th tackles on the depth chart in the lineup, head coach Mike Vrabel had to pull out all the stops.
On their first offensive possession, the Titans faced a 4th and 6 from their own 34 yard line. Instead of punting the ball away, safety Kevin Byard took the direct snap and did his best Air McNair impression when he launched a 66 yard touchdown pass to rookie Dane Cruikshank.
The score gave Tennessee an early lead they would never relinquish in a critical 20-17 win. It was the first of Vrabel’s career, and it came at the expense of the team he helped coach last season.
2. Sims snuffed it out in JacksonvilleEmbed from Getty Images
The following week the Titans were road underdogs to the reigning AFC South champion Jacksonville Jaguars. With Blaine Gabbert still under center, the first offensive possession of the game was a disaster. It looked as if a blowout would soon ensue.
But on Jacksonville’s second possession, in a scoreless first quarter, the Jaguars tried to one-up the Titans with a fake punt of their own….from their own 46.
Corey Grant took the ball and attempted to turn the left corner, but was stopped by LeShaun Sims short of the line to gain. The play completely swung momentum in Tennessee’s favor as the air was taken out of the Jags and their home crowd.
The Titans took advantage of the great field position and converted it into a field goal and early 3 point lead, which turned out to be the difference in a 9-6 upset road victory for Tennessee.
3. Davis capped career-day with walk-off touchdown in OT.Embed from Getty Images
In the biggest game of the season to that point, the Titans hosted the defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles. Second year receiver Corey Davis feasted (pun intended) on Philly’s secondary for a career-high 9 catches for 161 yards and a touchdown.
Not only was the touchdown the first of his career in front of home crowd at Nissan Stadium, but it was the game-clincher in an overtime thriller. Tennessee rallied from a 14 point deficit late in the game to win 26-23 in OT.
4. Byard goes dancing with the stars…on the star.Embed from Getty Images
Tennessee faced America’s team, the Dallas Cowboys, under the national bright lights of Monday Night Football at AT&T Stadium. The game was almost over before it started after two turnovers by the offense on their first two possessions.
Dallas had a 7-0 lead and was on Tennessee’s 6 yard line….looking to break the game wide open. But Kevin Byard intercepted Dak Prescott in the endzone on a play that may have saved the 3-4 Titans from an insurmountable climb back into contention.
After the pick, Byard raced to the 50 yard line, a la Terrell Owens, and stood on the famed star with arms open wide. He was greeted by his teammates, and they proceeded to dance on the most famous logo in all of sports.
The outlandish gesture energized his teammates, who went on to dominate the remainder of the game and came away with a huge 28-14 victory.
5. Patriots stunned by signature start from all 3 phasesEmbed from Getty Images
OK, this is technically a series of plays, but when added together they set the tone for the biggest win of the season.
No one gave the Titans a shot against the reigning AFC champion New England Patriots, even after their impressive nationally televised Monday night performance just six days earlier.
But a fast start from all three phases of the game certainly got New England’s attention.
Darius Jennings found a crease and took the opening kickoff 58 yards to set Tennessee up at New England’s 40 yard line. Marcus Mariota hit Corey Davis for a 24 yard strike on the first offensive play of the game, and the Titans were off and running with a sudden 7-0 lead minutes into the contest.
Safety Kenny Vaccaro drilled Patriots’ running back/receiver James White for a crushing 3 yard loss on New England’s first offensive snap, setting the tone for a day filled with physical hits from Tennessee’s swarming defense. The end result was a resounding 34-10 shellacking of Tom Brady, who waved the white flag and exited stage left midway through the fourth quarter.
With all of the negative emotions surrounding Tennessee’s embarrassing 38-10 beat down at the hands of the Colts last week, let us not forget to be thankful for the plays that have the Titans still playing meaningful football this late in the season on this day of Thanksgiving.
As in real life, it could always be worse. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.