Tennessee Titans rally to stun Kansas City Chiefs in NFL playoff opener

Marcus Mariota led Tennessee to three second-half touchdowns, unbelievably throwing one of his TD passes to himself, and the Titans rallied from a 21 -3 deficit to beat the Kansas City Chiefs 22 -2 1 on Saturday for their first playoff win in 14 years.

Mariota hurled for 205 yards and two scores, including the 22 -yard go-ahead strike to Eric Decker with just over six minutes left that ushered the Titans into the divisional round of the playoffs.

“Special, special, ” Mariota said. “I’m a part of a great squad. I’m a part of a group of guys that really just believe in one another. And, it’s something special and I’m look forward to playing next week.”

They’ll head to New England or Pittsburgh next week.

Derrick Henry had a career-high 156 yards rushing and the other score for Tennessee( 10 -7 ), while a defense that was fileted by Alex Smith and the Chiefs( 10 -7) during the first half pitched a shutout in the second half — dooming the Kansas City franchise to another humiliating postseason defeat.

The Chiefs haven’t won a home playoff game since January 1994.

Smith threw for 264 yards and two touchdowns, but most of that came before halftime. He couldn’t get on track in the second half and misfired on fourth-and-9 at the Titan 44 with merely over two minutes to go, denying the Chiefs a chance for Harrison Butker to kick a go-ahead field goal.

Albert Wilson failed to haul in this crucial fourth-down pass and the Chiefs never got the ball again. ( Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved .)

The letdown was constructed even more depressing when Henry appeared to fumble as Tennessee tried to run out the clock.

The Chiefs’ Derrick Johnson picked up the ball and returned it for a touchdown with 1:47 to run, but a video replay showed that Henry was down and the call was overturned.

Tennessee succeeded in running out the clock from there.

In the first half, the Chiefs seemed every bit the team that had won four straight in persuading fashion, and the Titans seemed every bit the team that backed into the playoffs.

Kareem Hunt, the league’s top rusher this season, plunged in from 1 yard for a 7-0 result, and Smith reached Travis Kelce with a 13 -yard touchdown pass a few minutes later. Smith added another touchdown toss to Demarcus Robinson on the final offensive play for a 21 -3 leading at the break.

Smith was 19 of 23 for 231 yards in the half. Mariota was 7 of 13 for 81 yards and a pick.

The Titans’ young quarterback got on track in the second half, though, converting a couple of key third downs — one of them with his legs — in marching his team 91 yards. He capped it by throwing the first TD pass to himself, the first player to achieve the feat in playoff history.

The previous player to do it in any game was the Vikings’ Brad Johnson during the 1997 season.

“Right place, right time, ” Mariota said with a smile.

Marcus Mariota threw for two touchdown pass — one of them to himself. ( Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved .)

Tennessee virtually expended its momentum when Adoree Jackson fumbled a punt, but the Chiefs were unable to pick up a first down and Butker knocked a 48 -yard field goal off the upright.

This time, it was Henry who led the Titans downfield, capping another TD drive by rumbling nearly untouched 35 yards right up the middle to get within 21 -1 6 with 14:08 to go.

“Grit. It’s only grit, ” Henry said of his team’s rally.

“You’ve got to believe in each other, human. We were down like this last year and we came back. We told them we’ve get 30 minutes left, all we’ve have to go to do is play our game, execute the plays and everything will take care of itself.”

The Chiefs’ offense had been rendered impotent by that phase, unable to move the ball much after Kelce left with a concussion in the first half. The Titans blanketed Tyreek Hill whenever he touched the ball, and they stacked the box to slow Hunt down in obvious rushing situations.

The Titans eventually pulled ahead when Mariota hurled a strike to Decker from 22 yards, and that led to a few moments of dispute. The Titans went for a 2-point conversion and the field-goal edge, and Mariota lost the ball as he was get sacked by the Chiefs’ Daniel Sorenson.

Frank Zombo picked it up and began running for two points that would have swung the lead back to Kansas City, but the officials had ruled that Mariota’s progress had been stopped.

It wound up being a crucial call in a game that came down to the wire.

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