Tennessee Titans, already division champions for second straight season, secure No. 1 seed in AFC


HOUSTON — The Tennessee Titans had one goal entering the season finale: to defeat the Houston Texans. In doing so, by way of a 28-25 win on Sunday, the Titans secured the top seed in the AFC.

Ryan Tannehill‘s three touchdown passes in the first half got the Titans off to a 21-0 lead. It was the fourth time Tannehill had three first-half touchdown passes in his career. Three of those occurrences have come against the Texans.

“That’s what it’s all about,” Tannehill said. “We took care of business and put ourselves in a good position. But that’s all it is, a position. We have to go out and play our best football in the coming weeks. That’s what the team that ultimately wins the whole thing will do: win games in January and into February.”

Fittingly, the Titans had to dig deep to pull off the win. The Texans reeled off 18 unanswered points to close the gap to 21-18 in the fourth quarter.

The Titans stopped the bleeding thanks to an eight-play, 75-yard drive capped by a 3-yard touchdown pass from Tannehill to Julio Jones for his first touchdown of the season and first score as a Titan.

“It was good,” Jones said of his touchdown reception. “It’s been a process for me. The guys have supported me the whole time. They came out there and celebrated. It was cool how your brothers go out there, playing for each other. Then going out there scoring, it meant more to them than me to get out there and score.”

Houston answered back on Davis Mills‘ 26-yard touchdown pass to Danny Amendola to make the score 28-25. Tennessee salted the game away on its final drive to bring the game to an end.

Tannehill finished with four touchdown passes on the day. It was the first time Tannehill had three or more touchdown passes in a game since Oct. 31 against the Indianapolis Colts.

The Titans are back-to-back AFC South champions and now have a much-needed bye after clinching the top seed. Coach Mike Vrabel has now led the Titans to the playoffs in three of his four years.

“They don’t give you a hat or a T-shirt for anything like that,” Vrabel said of getting the top seed. “We understand that we’re in the elite eight and that we’ve moved on to the second round of the playoffs without having to play a playoff game.”

Tennessee’s first playoff appearance was after the 2019 season, when the Titans made a run to the AFC Championship Game and lost to the Kansas City Chiefs. The Titans returned to the playoffs last season and lost to the Baltimore Ravens at Nissan Stadium in the divisional round.

The road to the Super Bowl now goes through Nashville. The Titans expect to have star running back Derrick Henry back in the lineup for the playoffs. Having Henry make his return from a fractured foot on the natural grass at Nissan Stadium is a win for the Titans because the surface is more forgiving.

The Titans designated Henry to return to practice from injured reserve, opening a 21-day window for them to add him to the active roster. Despite Henry taking part in practice for three consecutive days, Tennessee declined to activate Henry for the season finale.

Before his injury, Henry was leading the NFL with 219 carries, 937 yards and 10 touchdowns through eight games. Entering Week 18, Henry had the sixth-most rushing yards in the NFL.

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