Titans stun Ravens, head to AFC title game with 28-12 win
By BARRY WILNER AP Pro Football Writer
BALTIMORE (AP) — With his bright red shoes and relentless running, Derrick Henry grabbed the spotlight and wouldn’t let go.
When he was done leading Tennessee into the AFC championship game Saturday night, he did a lengthy victory lap around the Baltimore Ravens’ home, slapping hands and taking selfies with Titans fans.
It has been quite a two-week ride.
“It’s not just me,” Henry said after rushing for 195 yards and throwing a 3-yard touchdown pass in a 28-12 upset of the NFL’s top team Saturday night. “It’s a team effort. We’re all playing collectively as an offense, as a whole. We’re just locked in. We believe in each other. We communicate. It’s working out there.”
The Titans fear no one, and why should they with Henry rushing — and even throwing — the ball, and a big-play defense making clutch stops and turnovers?
One week after dominating defending Super Bowl champion New England, the Titans (11-7) eliminated Baltimore (14-3). The Ravens had won their last 12 games, with quarterback Lamar Jackson setting records and looking unstoppable.
On Saturday night, it was Henry who was unstoppable, despite Baltimore stacking eight men up front on almost two-thirds of his runs. At times, Henry used power to create space, at others the holes the line provided were huge.
“Watch us work,” said Henry, the NFL’s leading rusher this season. “We don’t do too much talking. We just go work and believe in each other. That’s our mentality. We’re going to come in here and work. … Focus on finishing.”
Tennessee’s defense had two interceptions of All-Pro QB Jackson, who also lost a fumble, and the Titans twice stopped Baltimore on fourth-and-1.
Henry’s jump-pass to Corey Davis displayed yet another of his skills. He has completed three throws in four attempts in his career.
“I put it perfect, man,” he said with a smile. “I haven’t done that pass since high school. I feel l like I still got it.”
But it’s the way he plows over and through opponents that makes Henry — and the Titans — dangerous. Next week, they will go after their second Super Bowl trip and first since the 1999 season, either at Kansas City or Houston. The last sixth seed to get to the big game was Green Bay in the 2010 season; the Packers won it all.
Tennessee scored all of its points off takeaways or fourth-down stops.
Ryan Tannehill’s throws to Jonnu Smith and Kalif Raymond, who missed the last two games in concussion protocol, gave Tennessee a 14-point edge.
Tennessee’s first score came after tight end Mark Andrews, the Ravens’ top receiver this season, mistimed his leap and had Jackson’s pass deflect into the air. Safety Kevin Byard was there to pick it off.
Byard scooted 31 yards down the left side, and with a 15-yard personal foul penalty on Jackson added, the Titans were at the Baltimore 35. The hushed crowd then saw five straight Titans runs to the 4 before Earl Thomas came free untouched for an 8-yard sack.
Tennessee simply shrugged and Smith made a juggling catch in the left corner of the end zone. Replay determined he landed barely in bounds for a 7-0 lead.
A fourth-down stop with less than a yard to go — the first time in nine tries all season the Ravens failed on fourth-and-1 — set up Tennessee’s next touchdown. Tannehill made it 14-0 with his gorgeous long pass that floated over Raymond’s shoulder into his arms behind All-Pro defensive back Marcus Peters for a 45-yard touchdown. That throw accounted for just over half of Tannehill’s yards passing for the entire game: 88.
The folks in the stands dressed in purple, who hadn’t seen their team in such a deep hole since the end of September, had gone silent.
They did wake up for Baltimore’s 12-play second-quarter drive that included a 30-yard completion to rookie Marquise Brown on third down. But the drive netted only Jason Tucker’s 49-yard field goal.
Brown again was instrumental on a late 91-yard drive to Tucker’s 22-yarder as he made a spectacular one-handed grab of a 38-yard pass, also on third down. Getting within one score in a half they were generally outplayed gave the Ravens little boost, though.
“We just beat ourselves,” Jackson said. “I had a lot of mistakes on my behalf. Three turnovers. That shouldn’t happen.”
Henry’s 66-yard romp on third-and-1 led to his passing TD on a direct snap in the third quarter, followed one play later by Jurrell Casey forcing Jackson’s fumble, recovered by rookie Jeffery Simmons. Tannehill’s 1-yard run made it 28-6.
“They were beating people with shock and awe in the first quarter,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said of the Ravens’ winning streak. “We knew we had to do it with some turnovers and fourth-down stops. That’s the only way you can do it. Make Tucker kick some field goals.”
Henry’s TD pass was the first by a running back in the playoffs since 1987, when Allen Rice of Minnesota managed it.
Henry is the first player with two games of 175 rushing yards or more in the same postseason. He has set the postseason single-game rushing record for the Titans in consecutive weeks.
He also has the most yards rushing through his first four postseason games, coming in with 366 and now is at 561, beating Hall of Famer Terrell Davis and Arian Foster, who were tied with 515 through their first four.
“It’s going to be grind, grind, grind and then he’s going to bust one,” Vrabel said.
Jackson’s superb season ended with a major thud. He finished with gaudy numbers — 31 of 59 for 365 yards, 20 carries for 143 yards — and a 15-yard TD pass to Hayden Hurst. But the Ravens flopped ignominiously.
Jackson was better than in his previous playoff game, a wild-card loss to the Chargers last year. At halftime in that one, Jackson was 2 of 8 for 17 yards and an interception for a 0.0 quarterback rating. He came on in helping Baltimore make that one close in the second half.
“I don’t care about what they say,” Jackson said about the likely criticism of his postseason showings. “This is my second year in the league. I’ve got a great team with me. We’re going to keep going and get ready for next year.”
Titans: On to either Kansas City or division rival Houston in the AFC title game.
Ravens: Their superb season and 3 1/2 months of winning are over and they head into the offseason way early than expected.
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