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Titans complete second-half comeback, stun Chiefs

*The Tennessee Titans overcame a 21-3 first-half road deficit, plastering the Kansas City Chiefs for 19 second-half points to swipe a 22-21 upset win at Arrowhead Stadium. The 18-point comeback tied for the second-largest on the road in NFL playoff history. Here is what we learned from Saturday's AFC Wild Card Playoff Game: *

  1. The Titans' offense floundered in first-gear for two quarters. The run game was stuffed. Marcus Mariota couldn't find the range. Receivers muffed passes and botched routes. Then Tennessee found its motor: Derrick Henry. The power-back bulldozed his way through a Chiefs defense that sorely missed Chris Jones (left with a knee injury). Henry chugged for 151 scrimmage yards in the second half. The Titans scored touchdowns on three straight drives. Henry appropriately iced the game with a 22-yard jaunt on the fourth second-half drive. The 6-foot-3, 247-pound Henry was unstoppable, plowing through defenders for 156 rushing yards on 23 totes for a 6.8 average. The play of the former Heisman Trophy winner exacerbates the head-scratching fact that Titans coaches didn't ride the back all season.
  1. Speaking of former Heisman winners, Marcus Mariota found his groove in the second-half. Sparked by a wacky touchdown pass to himself, the quarterback tortured the Chiefs' defense with his legs and arm. His numbers won't pop off the page (19 for 31 for 205 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) but the third-year pro played his best half in months. It's not surprising that Mariota's play improved once the Titans were forced to go up-tempo after falling behind big. Putting the offense in the QB's hands is something for which teammates have begged to happen for weeks. Mariota's ability to make things happen when plays broke down made the difference in the second-half comeback. Mariota displayed steely resolve on the go-ahead scoring give, including a touchdown strike to Eric Decker. The Titans' best offense is a simple formula: Up-tempo with heavy doses of Henry. It's a recipe Mike Mularkey must stick with in the Divisional Round.
  1. Alex Smith went from the game's MVP to possibly playing his final game in K.C. The quarterback dominated the first half, tossing for 231 yards on 19-of-23 passing with two touchdown tosses. His play prompted Hall of Fame QB Steve Young to declare at halftime that Smith played "one of the best first halves of a playoff game in the history of quarterbacking." Sadly for Chiefs fans, there were two halves to play. Smith completed just five passes in the final two quarters for 33 yards. The entire K.C. offense was stymied, running just 21 second-half plays. Despite being in the MVP conversation this season, questions about Smith's future in Kansas City will swirl with Patrick Mahomes waiting in the wings.
  1. It's not a coincidence that the Chiefs' offense went into the tank after Travis Kelcesuffered a concussion late in the first half. The playmaking tight end earned four catches for 66 yards and a touchdown through two quarters. With Kelce out, it wiped away Smith's security blanket and allowed the Titans to load up to stop Tyreek Hill. Kelce's replacements don't create the windows Smith needs nor do they threaten the defense vertically. The stagnation that followed Kelce's injury boosts the notion that the tight end is the most vital piece of the K.C. offense.
  1. Credit legendary defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau for flipping the script. After beginning the game with a bevy of three-man rushes and coverage calls, LeBeau came after Smith. The 80-year-old DC blitzed heavily, and the Titans front seven, led by Jurrell Casey, Wesley Woodyard and Brian Orakpo, swarmed the Chiefs' offensive line. Smith had no room to throw, and the Chiefs couldn't find a sliver of space in the running game. It was a smothering performance for two quarters from the Titans' underrated defense.
  1. Chiefs coach Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Matt Nagy are sure to get heat for Kareem Hunt seeing only 11 carries (42 yards) despite owning a double-digit lead for most of the game. K.C.'s lack of positive plays in the second half, and the defense allowing Tennessee to hold the ball, played the largest roles in Hunt disappearing. When they did hand the ball to Hunt, he found few holes. In five second-half carries, the NFL's leading regular-season rusher earned five carries for 17 yards, three of which went for one or fewer yards.
  1. Will the victory take the heat off Titans coach Mike Mularkey? The Tennessee coaching staff looked toasted after its team laid an egg in the first half. Mularkey's decision to chase points in the second-half (two failed two-point conversions) were debatable and could have cost his team had the Chiefs moved into field goal range. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Saturday that Mularkey's job was in jeopardy in the Titans fell. Will the team brass view the come-from-behind win as a sign the players won't quit on their coach? Or will the Jekyll and Hyde performance keep Mularkey on the hot-seat moving further into January?
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