Titans hold on to earn first postseason berth since 2008
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee Titans outside linebacker Derrick Morgan played in his 105th career game Sunday.
Next weekend, he will suit up for his first career playoff game.
Morgan and the Tennessee defense came up big in the franchise’s biggest game in years, wrapping up the Titans’ first playoff berth since 2008 in a 15-10 verdict over the AFC South champion Jacksonville Jaguars.
When Kevin Byard notched his second interception of Blake Bortles with 10 seconds left to seal the outcome, the remainder of the crowd of 65,501 at Nissan Stadium erupted, chanting “playoffs, playoffs.”
“It’s been a long time coming,” Morgan said. “I’ve been here through a lot of 2-14s, 6-10s, so to be here and finally play a meaningful game in Week 17 and win it, it’s great, man.”
The Titans (9-7) are the fifth seed and will travel to Kansas City, Mo., to play the AFC West champion Chiefs Saturday for their playoff opener. Jacksonville (10-6) will host Buffalo, the AFC’s other wild-card team, after the Bills’ 22-16 win in Miami Sunday and Baltimore’s stunning 31-27 loss at home to Cincinnati.
Tennessee’s offense managed only 232 yards and 11 first downs, but its defense protected the lead fiercely in ending a three-game losing streak. The Titans had blown fourth-quarter leads in each game, putting them on the brink of elimination.
This time, there was no letup from the Tennessee defense, even after the Jaguars crawled back into the game on a major gaffe from its offense. Angling to land a kill shot, the Titans instead fumbled the ball at the Jacksonville 33 on a botched exchange between quarterback Marcus Mariota and running back Derrick Henry.
Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue recovered it and ran 67 yards for a touchdown with 10:48 left in the game, cutting what seemed like a comfortable lead to five points. The doubt seemed to radiate through fans, who didn’t have any reason to feel good, either because of the frigid weather or because of the recent form chart.
But Tennessee players weren’t dwelling on the past.
“We were just focusing on what we had to do,” defensive tackle Karl Klug said.
Which meant defend and bleed clock. The Jaguars created only one first down on their last three possessions. Linebacker Brian Orakpo bagged a critical sack of Bortles to help force a punt, and Bortles forced a couple of other throws with the pass rush bearing down on him.
Offensively, the Titans melted all but 18 seconds on a drive that started with 3:57 left. Mariota, who hasn’t run much in the last three games due to a leg injury suffered on Dec. 10 in Arizona, moved the chains with scampers of 7 and 13 yards.
“They covered it well,” he said of the second third-down run. “I wanted to make a play for the guys and I was able to do it. It’s more instinctual ... I was just trying to make a play.”
Mariota connected on 12-of-21 passes for 134 yards while running for a team-high 61 yards on nine carries.
The offense’s biggest play occurred on the second play of the second quarter. Tennessee conjured up a well-executed screen pass to Henry, who used two good blocks and broke into the clear. A cut to the middle helped him finish off a 66-yard touchdown for the game’s first score.
Ryan Succop accounted for the Titans’ other points with field goals of 25, 39 and 38 yards, the first two coming off Jacksonville fumbles late in the first half.
It was a mistake-laden day for the Jaguars. They committed four turnovers and six penalties while also dropping a handful of passes. Dede Westbrook clanked a potential touchdown pass from Bortles in the third quarter.
Bortles completed 15-of-34 passes for 158 yards and two interceptions, finishing with a meager passer rating of 33.7.
“The good part about this is we’re going home. We have earned the opportunity to play a home playoff game,” Jacksonville head coach Doug Marrone said. “We’re not going to be out there celebrating the New Year.”
NOTES: Leading receiver Marqise Lee was the headliner on Jacksonville’s list of inactives, which also included WR Montay Crockett, RB Chris Ivory, OL Chris Reed, OL Cam Robinson, OL William Poehls and DT Abry Jones. ... Tennessee’s inactives were RB DeMarco Murray (knee), QB Brandon Weeden, DB Curtis Riley, OLB Josh Carraway, LB Nate Palmer, OL Corey Levin and WR Harry Douglas. ... Jaguars RB Leonard Fournette topped 1,000 yards for the season in the second quarter and finished with 69 yards.