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Titans defender Jurrell Casey (99) and teammates celebrate after a fumble by the Ravens during the AFC Divisional Playoff game at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, on Jan. 11, 2020.
Titans head coach Mike Vrabel hugs Rashaan Evans during the closing moments of AFC Divisional Playoff game against the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, on Jan. 11, 2020.
Casey says ‘the mindset’s already been checked in’
Jurrell Casey didn’t quite frame it as a guarantee, as quarterback Joe Namath famously did 51 years ago, before his upstart AFL champion New York Jets did indeed upset the NFL champion Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.
But Casey, the Tennessee Titans’ standout defensive tackle, came pretty close in his team’s locker room early Sunday morning, following his team’s shockingly dominating, 28-12 defeat of the Baltimore Ravens — before even knowing which team the Titans would face this coming Sunday in the AFC championship game.
“I told the guys already, man. The mindset’s already been checked in. It’s ready to go,” said Casey, a nine-year NFL veteran and a team captain. “There’s no way we can lose next week. Jurrell Casey’s going to show up and show out. As long as everybody does that, and follows in, baby, we’re going to have a good one.
“Emotions are crazy right now. It’s unbelievable. Everybody in this locker room understands what’s at hand… If we come out and play Titans football, we’ll come out and be in the Super Bowl — definitely.”
OK, Casey kind of did guarantee victory, didn’t he.
That certainly won’t prove an easy task, against the host Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday afternoon (3:05 p.m. EST, CTV via CBS). The Chiefs rallied to blow out the Houston Texans on Sunday, 51-31.
Casey wasn’t selected even to the Pro Bowl this season, let alone as a first- or second-team all-pro. But he sure played like one on Saturday night in Baltimore, in leading a stout Titans defensive line that, outside of mostly ad-libbed runs by electric Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson, shut down the Ravens’ league-best rushing attack.
Casey himself sacked Jackson twice, and stripped him of the ball once in forcing a crucial third-quarter turnover that teed up a Tennessee touchdown that blew the game open.
He said Tennessee’s game plan against the Ravens was to indeed shut down the Ravens’ vaunted running backs and force Jackson alone to beat them. That might or might not be informative about what Tennessee defensive coordinator Dean Pees will cook up for the Chiefs on Sunday, in the game to determine the AFC’s representative in Super Bowl LIV in Miami on Feb. 2.
As it played out, Tennessee limited Ravens running backs Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards to just 42 yards on nine carries.
“They only had Jackson, man, and when you lean on your quarterback (to gain your rush yards), what can you really expect?” Casey said. “The guy can’t run the ball all day long.
“Your running backs got to step in and do their job. Our guys up front, we were ready for the task. And the job was keep the ball in Lamar’s hands and make him run sideline to sideline.
“He picked up great chunks of yards today. Can’t deny that. That guy was unbelievable out there. But one guy can’t win the game for you.”
Jackson threw for 365 yards and ran for 143 — accounting for 95.8% of Baltimore’s offensive output. It’s actually incredible that the Ravens scored only one touchdown and only 12 points (their season-low output) considering Jackson personally accounted for 508 yards of offence.
But then Tennessee’s defence stiffened incredibly well the closer Baltimore got to the Titans goal line; Ravens drives ended at the Tennessee 36, 31, four, 18, 31, 15, 16 and 21 yard lines.
Patrick Mahomes, meantime, on Sunday threw for 321 and ran for 53 against Houston — accounting for 86.2% of Kansas City’s offensive output. Against the Texans, Mahomes and Co. had no trouble driving all the way into the end zone, scoring touchdowns on seven consecutive possessions from 9:55 left in the second quarter until 13:52 remained in the fourth.
Whereas the Texans’ defence was derided all season long as, at best, inconsistent — and at worst, terrible for too much of the time in too many big games this season, especially against the pass — this Titans defence came up big throughout the season in clutch moments.
Starting with Tennessee’s Week 1 blowout upset victory at Cleveland, when the Browns strutted into the regular season believing their you-know-what didn’t stink.
Denying Jackson on Saturday night on those two crucial 4 th -and-1 runs was reflective of the Titans’ defensive pride, tenacity and confidence.
“You’ve seen our goal-line stands. You’ve seen our fourth-down stands. I don’t think we really lost that many this year,” Casey said.
One last thing to keep in mind. It was 10 weeks ago that the Titans and Chiefs played in the regular season, at Tennessee. The Titans won a close one, 35-32, winning on a 23-yard pass from Ryan Tannehill to Adam Humphries with 29 seconds left.
Don’t discount their chances to post their third huge upset of these playoffs and reach Miami.
As Casey predicted. If not overtly guaranteed.
Titans coach embraces family atmosphere — literally
During the regular season, and especially during their epic run of playoff upsets this month, Tennessee Titans coaches and players keep pointing to their family-like bond and atmosphere as a big reason for their success.
It’s a cliché, sure, and one that prompts eye-rolls from the more jaded of us. Because we hear winning teams at high levels in virtually every sport all the time now profess that, in their case, this year, it’s genuine don’t ya know.
But something Titans head coach Mike Vrabel did minutes following his team’s huge upset win in Baltimore showed it’s not just lip-speak.
First a bit of background. After any NFL game, reporters and cameramen typically wait outside a team’s locker room, waiting for doors to open so we can do interviews.
On Saturday night, those of us so gathered were just feet away as Vrabel positioned outside his team’s locker room, delaying his private post-game celebration with players inside, until he personally greeted and congratulated each and every team player and support worker alike returning from the field.
The last player to leave the field and be greeted by Vrabel was monster running back Derrick Henry, who, after being interviewed on-field by TV, circumnavigated the field-level wall at M&T Bank Stadium to congratulate Titans fans.
Upon his delayed arrival, Henry jumped into Vrabel’s arms, with a hearty, emotional chest bump and hug.
Then it was family time inside.
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