One part prayer and one part redemption worked wonders for the Tennessee Titans on Sunday.
The Titans squandered an 18-point lead in the second half and needed a 46-yard overtime field goal from Rob Bironas, but managed to defeat the Miami Dolphins, 27-24, and keep their slim playoff hopes alive with two games to play.
In gaining the victory, free safety Michael Griffin redeemed himself for an interception-turned-57-yard completion that led to the tying touchdown in regulation. Griffin picked off a Chad Henne pass that had been tipped ever so slightly by Dave Ball, to set up Bironas’ winning kick on the first possession of the extra period.
With the win, the Titans push their record to 7-7, one game in back of the final wild-card spot but still needing plenty of help with two games remaining on the schedule.
That’s where the praying part comes in for the Titans, whose playoff hopes are now on at least one person’s prayer list.
“We’ll focus on winning, and I’ll let my mom pray for everybody else to lose, and it keeps working that way,” tight end Alge Crumpler said.
That’s what it had come to for the Titans, who have been in dire straits since an 0-6 start, but thanks to winning seven of eight are back to .500 and still alive in the playoff hunt.
With two games left, the Titans are in a group of six teams looking up at the Baltimore Ravens and Denver Broncos, who currently hold the wild-card berths at 8-6.
On Sunday, the Titans managed to weather 468 yards of total offense from the Dolphins, thanks to their ability to hold Miami to field goals after two turnovers, and by getting four takeaways of their own — including one from Chris Hope in the end zone in the third quarter to turn away another Dolphins scoring chance.
“They made some plays and got in the red zone a few times, but that’s the thing our coaches have been harping on, us holding them to field goals instead of touchdowns,” Hope said.
Still, a Dolphins second-half rally turned what should have been a laugher into an unnecessary nail-biter. The Dolphins cut the lead to 24-9 on Dan Carpenter’s third field goal of the game with 5:33 to play in the third quarter, then put together drives of 80 and 90 yards in the final quarter, plus a two-point conversion run from Ricky Williams from the wildcat formation to send the game to overtime.
“Never once did I feel like we were gonna lose. I felt like we were gonna pull it off,” receiver Nate Washington said. “You have to keep fighting in situations like that. We got down for a half-second, but we came out victorious in the end.”
The Titans might never have had to reach that deep to salvage the game, had Griffin been able to keep his hands on a sure interception that Brian Hartline tipped out of the safety’s hands and into his own for a 57-yard gain, putting the ball at the Tennessee 11 with 2:06 left.
“I had an opportunity to make a play and seal the game in regulation. The receiver managed to tip the ball out of my hands,” Griffin said.
From there, on fourth-and-1 at the Titans’ 2, Chad Henne hit Anthony Fasano for the touchdown, with Ricky Williams bulling in to tie the game.
When the Titans could not muster any offense, and elected not to use their timeouts with 56 seconds left and the Dolphins faceing second-and-4 at their own 6, they left their fate in the hands of a coin flip – only to lose that as well.
But that’s when Griffin got his chance at atonement, and made the most of it, intercepting Henne and returning it to the Dolphins’ 27 yard line where three plays later, Bironas delivered the game-winning kick. It was Griffin’s first interception of the season, and it couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.
“It just feels good to get out of that zero column — zero INTs. That was the question everybody had been asking me all season. I’m finally out of that zero column in the secondary,” Griffin said.
And for team that was one of the last to take the zero out of its win column, the Titans have managed to stay on the brink of the playoffs, despite the improbability of that occurrence.
“I’m just glad we won. I was a little peeved at the way it had to go down, but, hey look, we’re still breathing, baby,” Crumpler said. “We were dominating them. Then, they get the little lucky bounce at the end to get back in it.”
The Titans’ domination came with Vince Young’s first-ever three-touchdown pass game, as he took advantage of one-on-one matchups in completing 14 of 27 passes for 236 yards with one interception.
After that interception led to a 3-0 Dolphins lead, Young and the offense took command. Twice, Young found Justin Gage on touchdowns, hitting on 22-yard score and a 21-yard TD as well, sandwiched around a Rob Bironas field goal for a 17-6 halftime lead.
Young later added a 32-yard scoring toss to Washington, pushing Tennessee’s leads to 24-6 before the Dolphins comeback began.
“It was an ugly game, but a beautiful game. We made quite a few plays on offense, defense and special teams, but we also made a lot of mistakes,” defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch said. “But that was just a battle of two good teams fighting it out. There were a lot of big plays out there, and we got the big plays when we needed them.”
And in doing so, the Titans survive for yet at least one more meaningful game with the San Diego Chargers coming to LP Field on Christmas night.
“Every game is a playoff game. The playoffs don’t start in January,” linebacker Stephen Tulloch said. “They start now. It’s a must-win situation for us every week. We know what’s at stake. We want to get back to the playoffs and get a shot at the Super Bowl.”
Added Washington, “We needed this. If this was a loss, we had no hopes of the playoffs. So we came out this week and did a great job of preparing. We have to know that this is not over.”