HOUSTON — The Tennessee Titans (12-5) are the class of the AFC. Their 28-25 road win over the Houston Texans (4-13) solidified their position and home field advantage through this upcoming NFL postseason.

In doing so, Tennessee showed that they are more than capable of being a championship team.

A three-point win over a Houston team with nothing to play for does not stack up on the list of the Titans’ greatest accomplishments this season. It is less about the opponent they beat than it is about the way in which the game was won. What Tennessee showed in the second half of their regular season finale is what anyone who has watched them this season has been waiting for.

The passing game came to life, spurred on by spectacular play by quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

Titans offense found a second gear

Tannehill and the Titans have gotten plenty of scrutiny for an offense that was constructed like a Madden roster this offseason.

Tennessee Titans running back Dontrell Hilliard (40) rushes for a first down and sets their win over the Texans at NRG Stadium Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022 in Houston, Texas.

Injuries derailed what could have been during the regular season. The loss of stud running back Derrick Henry felt like it could have doomed Tennessee, but they found ways to survive it. Defensively, the Titans in 2021 had as dramatic a turnaround from last year as any unit in the sport. In order for them to be a true postseason threat, however, it felt like there had to be more consistently from the Tennessee passing game.

Both the Titans and Houston sputtered through the first quarter. Tannehill took it upon himself to bust it open in the second frame with three consecutive drives ending in touchdown passes.

“That was a hell of a job by Ryan (Tannehill),” coach Mike Vrabel said. “That’s what I just told the team. Came up with some huge plays. I thought he was in command most of the day executing and stuff. We tried to hit some throws down the field. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to, but just his ability to keep some plays live in the pocket I thought were really cool.”

Tannehill completed 23 passes on 32 attempts to nine different Tennessee players against the Texans. His 8.96 yards per attempt exceeded his season average (6.9) and kept an 18-point unanswered Houston rally from thwarting the Titans plans for the top seed. Three of his four touchdown passes in the second quarter were impressive enough.

The championship-caliber play that tanked the Texans came later on, though.

Titans can win it all with Tannehill

Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) calls a play during the third quarter at NRG Stadium Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022 in Houston, Texas.

Reaching that conclusion off of one moment against a four-win football team sounds outrageous, I know.

Not when you consider the ridiculousness encapsulated in that one play. Houston had held Tennessee’s offense to three consecutive three-and-outs to start the second half. On third-and-5 with 10:21 remaining in the fourth quarter,. Tannehill took the snap out of shotgun and was immediately pressured inside by defensive lineman Jacob Martin up the middle.

Tannehill looked like he might be dead-on-arrival as Martin tried to wrestle him down.

The Titans quarterback popped loose, rolled right and found wide receiver Nick Westbrook-Ikhine for a 36-yard play and the first down. It was Tennessee’s longest offensive play of the afternoon, culminating in an eight-play, 75-yard scoring drive. Tannehill had his first four-touchdown outing of the season. The much-maligned Julio Jones was the benefactor.

Jones hauled in his first score of the year for the 28-18 lead.

“Thought I was going to have a shot to AJ (Brown) sitting in the middle,” Tannehill said of his escape. “He ended up beating the guy with speed, so the guy was a couple yards behind him, didn’t like the look of it. Tried to come back to Firk (Anthony Firkser). 51 did a good job of widening back to him and I had to pull it back down as I was getting wrapped up. Then just twisted away, got away from it, and saw Nick (Westbrook-Ikhine) waving his arms doing the Billy Whiteshoes over there on the sideline, so was able to find him and get him the ball.”

If the Titans are to thrive this postseason, they will need more than one miraculous play. The point is: they have a quarterback capable of delivering, stud wide receivers rounding into form and an offensive line that’s done well to keep Tannehill upright in their last three games (all wins). Add a rested and healthy Henry to all that and a free ride to the divisional round.

Tennessee’s best may still be yet to come

Featured Image: George Walker – USA TODAY Sports.