KANSAS CITY, Mo. — In the bitter cold of Arrowhead Stadium, the Tennessee Titans refused to allow their playoff hopes to be put on ice Sunday.
The Titans played through poor field conditions on a field that was partially frozen and partially mud and rallied for a 26-17 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.
The victory pushes the Titans to 8-6, leaving them one game behind Cleveland for the final AFC wild-card playoff berth. The 9-5 Browns also could still win the AFC North, possibly pitting the Pittsburgh Steelers against the Titans for that final postseason spot.
“We’re fighting for our lives right now. We’re just trying to stay in the mix,” linebacker Keith Bulluck said. “If we can just win one more and then another one after that we’ll be in pretty good shape.”
Tennessee is the only team still alive in the AFC playoff chase that would not currently have a postseason berth, and needs a team ahead of them in the chase to lose at least once.
The Titans managed to stay alive despite not recording any sacks, allowing the lowly Chiefs to convert 11 of 17 third-down tries, converting just 3 of 11 third-down tries themselves and scoring a touchdown on just 1 of 5 visits to the red zone.
The Titans found themselves trailing 14-10 after a sluggish first half, with Kansas City’s two touchdowns coming on passes from Brodie Croyle to Sammie Parker of 10 yards and Kris Wilson from 9 yards out. On both touchdown passes, Chiefs receivers were able to dodge Titans tacklers to reach the end zone.
Parker got away from Calvin Lowry, who slipped while trying to catch him. Wilson bowled over Vincent Fuller, Cortland Finnegan and Michael Griffin on his way to scoring the go-ahead touchdown.
“I just missed the tackle; that’s all there is. I’ve got to do my job on that play,” said Fuller, who injured his shoulder on the play.
It was that kind of game for the Titans, whose defense was hampered somewhat by the unsteady field conditions.
“The defense is at a definite disadvantage in this type of game, because the offense knows where they’re going and the type of route they’re running,” linebacker Ryan Fowler said. “You’re trying to react and get your footing and break on the ball, and you’re at a definite disadvantage.”
Disadvantage or not, the Titans had two quarters remaining or they would have faced playoff extinction.
“At halftime, some of the leaders and myself gather around and talked about picking up the tempo and to win the game because it was right there for us,” quarterback Vince Young said.
Young took matters into his own hands after an exchange of field goals had the Chiefs clinging to a 17-13 edge late in the third quarter.
Young pump-faked a flanker screen pass, and the Chiefs bit on the fake. Young then hit Roydell Williams in stride on a deep ball down the sidelines for a 41-yard touchdown that gave the Titans a 20-17 lead, one they would not relinquish.
“We saw that their guys were biting pretty hard on that, and with the speed that Roydell has, we just got the ball out to him,” said Young, who finished 16 of 26 for 191 yards and two touchdowns, but most importantly no interceptions.
From there, the Titans would tack on two more Rob Bironas field goals of 40 and 25 yards to take a nine-point advantage.
When linebacker David Thornton intercepted Croyle with 4:25 to play, the Tennessee was able to finish off its comeback, using the run game to finish off the Chiefs and to live another week in the playoff hunt.
“The quarterback was clearly looking at [Tony] Gonzalez. They wanted to get the ball to their playmaker. I just took my zone drop, and he threw it right to me,” Thornton said. “I was thinking six, and then I was thinking ball security, and letting the offense seal the game and let’s get out of here and go home.”
The Titans return home Sunday to face the New York Jets in another must-win situation before closing the regular season at Indianapolis.
After winning in the cold of Kansas City, the Titans playoff hopes are beginning to heat up.