NASHVILLE – Kenny Vaccaro learned an important lesson about playoff football Saturday.
The emotion and intensity might be different than what players experience in the regular season, but there are familiar elements too.
With 7:23 to play in the second quarter of Saturday’s 20-13 victory over the New England Patriots, Vaccaro experienced a moment that was straight out of the regular season. Only this time, it turned out better.
The Tennessee Titans safety raced toward the left sideline and leapt high to break up a deep pass intended for Patriots wide receiver Mohammed Sanu. Before he came down, he crashed into cornerback Logan Ryan, who had covered Sanu down the field. As the two defensive backs helped each other back to their feet, they took a moment to look back.
“We had a play like that earlier in the year against Carolina where the guy caught it in between both of us,” Ryan said. “Kenny said, ‘Just like Carolina. They’re not going to get us again’ and I’m like, ‘That’s right.’ Great players, good players learn from their mistakes. He was able to make up for that one.”
Until now, the only means Vaccaro had for any comparison were the 97 regular-season games he had played in his career.
A first-round draft pick, 15 overall, by the New Orleans Saints, he was a part of two teams that qualified for the postseason but both times (2013 and 2017) he ended up on injured reserve on the final week of the regular season. His rookie year, it was a broken ankle that caused him to miss the playoffs. In 2017, it was a groin tear.
So it was, that he was among the 23 Titans players who made the NFL playoff debuts at New England.
He did not look out of place. In addition to the pass break up, Vaccaro was credited with seven tackles and one tackle for loss. Only Ryan, the Titans’ leader in playoff experience, and linebacker Rashaan Evans made more tackles.
“I thought (Vaccaro) played safety how I envisioned safety being played,” coach Mike Vrabel said. “He was physical, threw his body around for his team.”
And his body held up, which means this wait for his second career playoff appearance will be significantly shorter than it was for his first. He gets to do it all again this Saturday when the Titans face the top-seeded Baltimore Ravens in a divisional round matchup at M&T Bank Stadium.
“I knew one day, obviously, but some guys never make it,” Vaccaro said. “That’s why you kind of cherish those moments. That’s kind of how I approached the game last game. I was like, ‘I’m going to cherish each and every snap’ because you never know when it’s going to come again.
“… So, that was fun. I enjoyed it.”