While there was a part of us that wanted to see the hobbled Titans offense pinball downfield for a game-tying drive on the arm of journeyman Blaine Gabbert and the legs of a tired Derrick Henry, Kenny Moore’s interception midway through the fourth quarter and the impending, game-ending field goal was the universe’s way of ensuring that chaos will continue to be the driving theme of the AFC playoffs.
A day that began with nearly every seed up for grabs ended with one of the league’s best second-half teams—and one of the league’s best quarterbacks—sneaking into the final wild-card slot in the NFL playoffs with a chance of pulling an upset in the opening round against the division-rival Texans.
Tennessee coach Mike Vrabel should be commended for a season that took the team from early swoon to mid-season slump to end-of-season surge, all with a franchise quarterback battling a series of health issues. But Indianapolis caps an AFC playoff field that beautifully harnesses great—or captivating, in the case of Baltimore—quarterback play, a mix of young and old, as well as perhaps the conference’s best slate of offensive playcallers as well.
Take a look at the AFC field and, outside of Ben Roethlisberger and Baker Mayfield, who else would you want to see in the postseason? Normally we’re forced to endure a couple of games to gloss over. Buffalo-Jacksonville in 2017. The Derek-Carr-less Raiders of 2016, or the Matt Moore Dolphins. Alex Smith vs. the four-interception Brian Hoyer in 2015.
Next week, we’re guaranteed Andrew Luck and Deshaun Watson, Philip Rivers and Lamar Jackson. After that, Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes await.
The Colts are a young team peaking ahead of their time. One could make a case that general manager Chris Ballard has dotted the roster with a legitimate candidate for both offensive (Quenton Nelson) and defensive (Darius Leonard) rookie of the year. They’ve rehabilitated former first-round pick Eric Ebron. They’ve revived T.Y. Hilton. They’ve shaken a potentially disastrous situation, where a head coach left them at the altar and darted back to his coordinator job at a time when, theoretically, all of the other ‘best’ candidates had already secured jobs.
It’s a story that we’re all comfortable with right now, but maybe one we haven’t fully digested yet. The scope and speed of this rebuild, under the current set of circumstances, is incredible. Now, the rest of the football world gets a chance to meet one of the best young teams in the league.
Some combination of Gabbert and Marcus Mariota would have been fine. There is something to be said for a freewheeling offense, surviving mostly on the passing game basics, extending the responsibilities of their best offensive parts to try and create anything. But the greedy consumer in us all wanted more. Luck, with the cleanest pocket he’s seen in years, navigating a backfield containing J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney, sounds pretty good about now.