Titans 30, Ravens 24 (OT): What We Learned

Give Derrick Henry enough time and carries, or give the offense the ball in overtime and good things are going to happen.
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Even with their 30-24 overtime victory over the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, there is no way to know whether the Tennessee Titans will be in the playoffs.

At 7-3, they are merely in the thick of the AFC playoff chase and officially in second place in the AFC South by virtue of their head-to-head loss to the Indianapolis Colts. Things will get a little clearer next week when they face the Colts once again.

The victory over the Ravens, in which both teams led during the fourth quarter, did teach us all some things about the Titans.

Here is what we learned from this game:

Don’t give this team the ball in overtime: Tennessee has been to overtime twice this season. Its offense got the ball just once in each of those extra periods, and both times it finished things with a touchdown. The other was a Week 6 victory over Houston.

In this case, the offense ended it with a six-play, 73-yard drive capped by Derrick Henry’s 29-yard touchdown run with 5:21 to go. Four of the plays resulted in first downs. All of them went for at least four yards. The possession lasted 2:37.

“They were throwing the kitchen sink at us and bringing pressure almost every play,” quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. “I was telling the guys in the huddle, ‘They’re bringing all this pressure. If we get (Henry) on and make them miss one guy, we’ll be able to take it to the house,’ and that’s exactly what he did.”

Against Houston, it was also a six-play drive, but in that case, it covered 82 yards. Henry’s 5-yard touchdown run ended it, and his 53-yard catch and run accounted for the bulk of the yards. The only third-down play of that drive was the last one.

The difference between the two was that the Texans never got the ball. Baltimore, on the other hand, won the coin toss at the start of the extra period but did nothing with the opportunity. The Titans’ defense forced a three-and-out, which quickly got the ball to the offense.

“You want [Kevin Byard] to probably win the toss, go down there and score a touchdown, but that didn’t happen,” coach Mike Vrabel said. “We went out, played defense … then (were) able to go down and score.”

Coaching decisions look better when they work: Vrabel was not interested in a debate. He was willing to concede that he might not have made the right call in every situation. He also noted that you could not argue with the outcome.

Two of his choices in particular easily could have been second-guessed had they turned out differently.

In second quarter, fewer than two minutes after the Ravens took the lead, Vrabel called for a fake punt on fourth-and-7 from the Tennessee 49. Backup quarterback Logan Woodside lined up at personal protector, got the snap and threw the first pass of his NFL career to undrafted rookie Nick Westbrook-Ikhine. It gained exactly seven yards, kept the drive alive and led to a field goal a little more than three minutes later.

Speaking of field goals, the typically aggressive Vrabel opted to settle for one with 11:15 to go in the fourth quarter. Trailing by eight (21-13) and facing a fourth-and-2 from the Baltimore 4, he eschewed the opportunity to maintain his team’s pursuit of a game-tying touchdown. The kick, one of three Stephen Gostkowski field goals in the contest, cut the deficit to five and allowed the Titans to take the lead with a touchdown on their next possession, after which Vrabel kept Gostkowski on the sideline in favor of a two-point conversion attempt (it was successful).

“You know and I know that all of those decisions always come down to execution,” the third-year coach said. “The decision to fake the punt was only a good decision because (Woodside) and the punt team and (Westbrook-Ikhine) made it a good decision. And that is how this thing goes.”

• Depth matters. Injury issues forced the Titans to start this game without left guard Rodger Saffold (ankle), strong safety Kenny Vaccaro (concussion), outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney (knee-injured reserve) and several others. Along the way, they lost inside linebacker Jayon Brown, their leading tackler, and left tackle Ty Sambrailo, a backup making his fourth start in place of Taylor Lewan.

Yet they won.

Amani Hooker, who teamed with Josh Kalu to fill Vaccaro’s spot, had an interception after which Tennessee scored 17 points in three possessions (not counting a one-play drive at the end of regulation).

Undrafted rookie Aaron Brewer started in place of Saffold and helped Henry rush for more than 100 yards and did his part to protect Tannehill, who was sacked just twice.

Proven veterans Will Compton and David Quessenberry stepped in for Brown and Sambrailo, respectively. Hooker and Compton were among the Titans’ leading tacklers with six apiece. Kalu added four stops.

“I think guys are ready for their opportunity,” Vrabel said. “They are excited to play. I think Aaron Brewer was excited to play. I think Amani Hooker and Josh Kalu [were excited], and nobody is more into it than David Quessenberry. I know Will Compton was excited to play, and made some plays, and made some tackles.

“It is really difficult to go all week with a group of guys that are practicing a game-plan, especially with one that is as specific as it was this week.”

• Henry will get his -- eventually: Henry became the NFL’s first running back to get to 1,000 rushing yards this season when he ran for 133 on 28 carries against the Ravens.

It was not the easiest game he has had. Through three quarters he had just 44 yards on 18 carries. His long gain was eight yards. On the second play of the fourth quarter, though, he got loose for a 24-yard run. Three plays later came an 11-yard gain.

His last carry, his third on Tennessee’s overtime possession, was his longest of the day and the second longest offensive play for the Titans’ offense.

“We know we haven’t been playing the run too well,” Baltimore linebacker Patrick Queen said. “Those first three quarters, we were playing it lights out. … That last quarter, things went south.”

With six games remaining, Henry has 1,079 yards and is easily on pace to surpass his career-highs of 1,540 rushing yards and 303 carries from last season, when he was the NFL’s rushing champion.