Marcus Mariota keys unlikely comeback, road playoff win

By Nick Shook
NFL.com
Read full post on NFL.com

Ah, Wild Card Weekend, home of wild things, but not Where the Wild Things Are. No, instead of giant-faced fantastical animals, we have big-game action from big-time players.

Pitted against history and raucous crowds, road teams defied expectations to snag two of the weekend’s four possible wins, including a Saturday sweep. We’re here to bring you the best from those winners, who have earned themselves another week of football.

These are your greatest on the road from Wild Card Weekend presented by Courtyard by Marriott.

Greatest on the Road

 

Marcus Mariota, Tennessee Titans

 

Things looked predictably dire for the Tennessee Titans at halftime of Saturday’s wild-card game against the Kansas City Chiefs. The offense struggled to move the ball, and the defense couldn’t keep the Chiefs out of the end zone. Blowout city was a few exits down the freeway.

But then, a signature play altered the course of the game and perhaps the two franchises. Mariota rolled left on a third-and-goal from which Tennessee desperately needed points, pump faked, fired a bullet toward rookie receiver Corey Davis, had it deflected, and due to Mariota getting pushed after the throw by Chiefs linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis, was in perfect position to catch the deflection. We all know what happened next.

The touchdown Mariota scored jump-started an unlikely second-half comeback, produced perhaps the greatest Next Gen Stats route chart ever, and one of the great play summaries in history:

(6:44) (Shotgun) M.Mariota pass short left to M.Mariota for 6 yards, TOUCHDOWN. Pass deflected by D.Revis back to M.Mariota.

It was the first touchdown pass from a quarterback to himself in 20 years (here’s a trivia bomb you can drop on your friends: the last guy to do it was Brad Johnson in Week 7 of the 1997 season), and it ignited a Titans team desperate for an ounce of hope. From there, Mariota completed 7 of 11 passes for 72 yards and another touchdown, which happened to be the game-winner to Eric Decker (who overcame an earlier drop on third down). Mariota finished 19-of-31 passing for 205 yards and two touchdowns, and added 46 rushing yards on eight carries.

All of that madness combined to advance the Titans to the Divisional Round and preserve head coach Mike Mularkey’s job. That’s what we call road greatness.

 

Also considered …

 

Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons

 

I’d like to give this honor to Atlanta’s defense and its ability to tackle in space, because that’s really what won this game for the Falcons, but it was also important to get Julio Jones going.

Let’s face it: For much of the season, Atlanta has struggled to get Jones the ball. Save for his explosion against Tampa Bay, it’s been a quiet season for Jones, the quietest 1,444-yard, three-touchdown season you’ll ever see. The three scores are the key to why we haven’t heard much, even with his 88 receptions and yardage total.

Luckily (and wisely) for Atlanta, Jones got into the end zone Saturday. His score proved sealed the win, putting Atlanta ahead 26-13 with less than six minutes to play, and capped a solid day of nine catches, 94 yards and the score. It could also serve as a build-up to an even bigger day against a tough Philadelphia defense that is better at getting to the quarterback than it is covering receivers.

 

Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans

 

I wrote about it in a different space last week, and anyone who’s watched a full Titansgame would agree: Henry has been Tennessee’s best running back all season. And yet, Mike Mularkey has avoided giving him the bulk of the team’s carries — that is, until an injury to DeMarco Murray forced his hand.

That turn of events might have saved Tennessee’s season and Mularkey’s job (the latter is certain). Henry carried the ball 23 times and rushed for 156 yards and a touchdown, including a 35-yard rumble that brought the Titans within five points of tying the game. The offensive balance created by Henry’s performance opened up the passing game, which Mariota exploited multiple times during Tennessee’s push, capped by a 22-yard scoring strike to Eric Decker that completed the comeback.

Tennessee faces an even tougher opponent in New England in Divisional play, but with Henry, the Titanshave a formidable weapon in its backfield alongside Mariota.

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