Titans survive Dolphins rally, win in OT to keep playoff hopes alive

Sunday, December 20, 2009 at 4:18pm
Justin Gage hauls in one of his two touchdown catches against the Dolphins. / Mike Strasinger for The City Paper

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.”


12 Comments on this post:

By: TITAN1 on 12/20/09 at 6:19

The Titans could not have won! frank brown said "No way the Titans win this game"! Must be a mistake, huh frank?

By: house_of_pain on 12/21/09 at 6:56

Good win for the Titans. Many "experts" were saying Henne was gonna light us up.

By: frank brown on 12/21/09 at 7:50

TITAN1 You are exactly correct. I made a mistake. I really and truly thought that Miami (without Chad Pennington & Ronnie Brown) would beat the Titans. I have to remind you that my prediction of 8 and 8 before the season started is looking very good.

I did think that this was Vince Young's best all round performance and that Keith Bullock mean more to the team than I previously thought.

Merry Christmas!

By: TITAN1 on 12/21/09 at 8:58

frank, you predict 8-8 every year and you might be wrong again since we could go 9-7 and that isn't bad at all considering we started 0-6. Just admit that you are not a Titans fan and stop pretending that you are.

By: jwk6179 on 12/21/09 at 9:36

If the Titans had been able to win JUST 2 of those first 6 games, they would be the front runner for one of the AFC Wild Card spots instead of having to rely on the Broncos and Ravens to lose BOTH of their remaining games, the Steelers to lose one of their reamaing two games and the Titans to win BOTH of their games in order to make the PLAY-OFFS.

By: TITAN1 on 12/21/09 at 9:56

jw, I agree with you on this. I wish we could have won at least two of those games and were so close in doing just that.

By: frank brown on 12/21/09 at 11:01

Titan1 We have been through this all before. I am a fan of winning. I do not have the patience or the personality to tolerate losing. When Tenneseee wins I am a fan. When Vanderbilt wins I am a fan. When the Titans win I am a fan.

I am also a follower of history. I have always believed that history is a very barometer of the future. Thus you get for the Titans 8 and 8.

By: brrrrk on 12/21/09 at 11:12

Frankly I think it's funny that the Titans are getting such attention for winning right now. Statistically speaking, they're just beating teams at the moment that they should have been beating from the git go. Like beating the Rams with an 11-1 record and a rookie QB who never took an NFL snap was any big deal. If they stand toe to toe with the Chargers, then we've seen something.

By: TITAN1 on 12/21/09 at 12:13

Really, brrrk? Have you ever heard of parity? Any given Sunday.

By: TitansFan035 on 12/21/09 at 2:10

The coaching was terrible yesterday! Fisher and his conservative way almost cost us this game men. Instead of trying to score another touchdown on the 4th quarter he kept on trying to run the clock out by handling the ball to C.J. Well the Dolphins were pretty good in defending the run yesterday.. Fisher won this by the hair of the chin, chin . GO TITANS!!

By: TitansFan035 on 12/21/09 at 2:19

BTW, Fisher you need to play Rod Hood men.. Offenses are picking on old arrssee Harper and he is getting constantly burned...WTF is he Charlie Brown??

By: frank brown on 12/21/09 at 3:48

Titan1........With the loss of Bullock and Thornton I could be too optimistic. The Titans could be 7 and 9. I hate it but that is the way the Titans operate. Suppose they wind up 8 and 8,do What would be their regular season record over the past five years?