Patriots

Patriots

Facing down 11 men in the box, Blake Bortles dropped back on fourth down, tripped, gathered himself, and after an afternoon of mind-numbingly bad throws he somehow hit an open Ben Koyack in the back of the end zone for the go-ahead score in the AFC Wild Card Game between the Bills and Jaguars. 

That propelled the Jags to the win, and it booked the Titans tickets for New England next week in the Divisional Round. As the lowest remaining seed, Tennessee (the No. 5 seed) will face the AFC's top-seeded Patriots for a shot to go to the conference title game. 

Here are a few quick-hitting Titans nuggets for you to chew on as you lick your lips in anticipation of the matchup we've all been waiting for: Mike Mularkey versus Bill Belichick.

OFF THE HOT SEAT?

Let's start with the head coach. Mularkey was firmly on the hot seat until his team edged out a one-point road win over the No. 4-seeded Chiefs. Before the game, NFL Media reported that the team would actually make a run at Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels as its next sideline boss if the Titans lost in Kansas City. Then, after rallying from 18 down with the help of a confounding no-fumble call and a quarterback who threw a pass to himself, Titans ownership re-committed to Mularkey in a statement.

STEP BACK IN YEAR THREE

 

Part of the reason Mularkey's job-security was in question in the first place was because his third-year quarterback should be better than he is. After compiling quarterback ratings of 91.5 and 95.6 in his first two seasons, Marcus Mariota checked in with a 79.3 rating in 2017. That was worse than Eli Manning. Worse than Joe Flacco. Worse than Jay Cutler. Worse than Jacoby Brissett. Mariota had a career-low in touchdowns and a career-high in interceptions -- his touchdown-to-interception ratio was 13-to-15 -- and his yards per attempt fell by almost two yards from last season (7.9 to 6.2). Mariota is a great athlete with a reputation as a well-respected leader, but his accuracy and decision-making should be better after three years under a head coach whose expertise is on the offensive side of the ball.

BACK BUILT LIKE AN EDGE RUSHER

The Titans leaned heavily on running back Derrick Henry in their Wild Card Game, giving him the football 23 times and watching him roll for 156 yards and a score. Looking for another reason Mularkey might've been asked to leave after the season? The Titans had rarely asked Henry to carry them like that before. He carried 28 times in the regular-season finale, but only after starting back DeMarco Murray was injured. He finished the year averaging 4.23 yards per carry to Murray's 3.58 and there were those who argued he needed to be made the lead back much sooner. Hard to dispute. Henry -- listed at 6-foot-3, 247 pounds and with almost identical NFL Scouting Combine measurements to Broncos edge rusher Von Miller -- is a load to bring down. According to Pro Football Focus, he's fourth in the league (tied with Dion Lewis, believe it or not) with an average of 3.2 yards gained after contact per attempt.

MIDDLE OF THE PACK DEFENSIVELY

The Titans finished the season 17th in the NFL in terms of points allowed per game with 22.3. They were 13th in yards and 23rd in turnover differential (-4). They allowed a passer rating of 87.8, which was 16th in the NFL. They have some talent on that side of the ball, led by defensive tackle Jurrell Casey and First Team All-Pro safety Kevin Byard. Logan Ryan, who signed as a free agent with the Titans last offseason, plays on the outside and in the slot. When he's used inside, per PFF, he's one of the best in the game in terms of the number of yards he's allowed in coverage out of the slot. 

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