Jan 12, 2020 4:40 AM

Titans stun Ravens, head to AFC title game with 28-12 win

Posted Jan 12, 2020 4:40 AM

BALTIMORE (AP) — With his bright red shoes and relentless running, Derrick Henry grabbed the spotlight and wouldn’t let go.

When he was done leading Tennessee into the AFC championship game Saturday night, he did a lengthy victory lap around the Baltimore Ravens’ home, slapping hands and taking selfies with Titans fans.

It has been quite a two-week ride.

“It’s not just me,” Henry said after rushing for 195 yards and throwing a 3-yard touchdown pass in a 28-12 upset of the NFL’s top team Saturday night. ”It’s a team effort. We’re all playing collectively as an offense, as a whole. We’re just locked in. We believe in each other. We communicate. It’s working out there.”

The Titans fear no one, and why should they with Henry rushing — and even throwing — the ball, and a big-play defense making clutch stops and turnovers?

One week after dominating defending Super Bowl champion New England, the Titans (11-7) eliminated Baltimore (14-3). The Ravens had won their last 12 games, with quarterback Lamar Jackson setting records and looking unstoppable.

On Saturday night, it was Henry who was unstoppable, despite Baltimore stacking eight men up front on almost two-thirds of his runs. At times, Henry used power to create space, at others the holes the line provided were huge.

“Watch us work,” said Henry, the NFL’s leading rusher this season. “We don’t do too much talking. We just go work and believe in each other. That’s our mentality. We’re going to come in here and work. ... Focus on finishing.”

Tennessee’s defense had two interceptions of All-Pro QB Jackson, who also lost a fumble, and the Titans twice stopped Baltimore on fourth-and-1.

Henry’s jump-pass to Corey Davis displayed yet another of his skills. He has completed three throws in four attempts in his career.

“I put it perfect, man,” he said with a smile. “I haven’t done that pass since high school. I feel l like I still got it.”

But it’s the way he plows over and through opponents that makes Henry — and the Titans — dangerous. Next week, they will go after their second Super Bowl trip and first since the 1999 season, either at Kansas City or Houston. The last sixth seed to get to the big game was Green Bay in the 2010 season; the Packers won it all.

Tennessee scored all of its points off takeaways or fourth-down stops.

Ryan Tannehill’s throws to Jonnu Smith and Kalif Raymond, who missed the last two games in concussion protocol, gave Tennessee a 14-point edge.

Tennessee’s first score came after tight end Mark Andrews, the Ravens’ top receiver this season, mistimed his leap and had Jackson’s pass deflect into the air. Safety Kevin Byard was there to pick it off.

Byard scooted 31 yards down the left side, and with a 15-yard personal foul penalty on Jackson added, the Titans were at the Baltimore 35. The hushed crowd then saw five straight Titans runs to the 4 before Earl Thomas came free untouched for an 8-yard sack.

Tennessee simply shrugged and Smith made a juggling catch in the left corner of the end zone. Replay determined he landed barely in bounds for a 7-0 lead.

A fourth-down stop with less than a yard to go — the first time in nine tries all season the Ravens failed on fourth-and-1 — set up Tennessee’s next touchdown. Tannehill made it 14-0 with his gorgeous long pass that floated over Raymond’s shoulder into his arms behind All-Pro defensive back Marcus Peters for a 45-yard touchdown. That throw accounted for just over half of Tannehill’s yards passing for the entire game: 88.

The folks in the stands dressed in purple, who hadn’t seen their team in such a deep hole since the end of September, had gone silent.

They did wake up for Baltimore’s 12-play second-quarter drive that included a 30-yard completion to rookie Marquise Brown on third down. But the drive netted only Jason Tucker’s 49-yard field goal.

Brown again was instrumental on a late 91-yard drive to Tucker’s 22-yarder as he made a spectacular one-handed grab of a 38-yard pass, also on third down. Getting within one score in a half they were generally outplayed gave the Ravens little boost, though.

“We just beat ourselves,” Jackson said. “I had a lot of mistakes on my behalf. Three turnovers. That shouldn’t happen.”

Henry’s 66-yard romp on third-and-1 led to his passing TD on a direct snap in the third quarter, followed one play later by Jurrell Casey forcing Jackson’s fumble, recovered by rookie Jeffery Simmons. Tannehill’s 1-yard run made it 28-6.

“They were beating people with shock and awe in the first quarter,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said of the Ravens’ winning streak. “We knew we had to do it with some turnovers and fourth-down stops. That’s the only way you can do it. Make Tucker kick some field goals.”

MORE HENRY

Henry’s TD pass was the first by a running back in the playoffs since 1987, when Allen Rice of Minnesota managed it.

Henry is the first player with two games of 175 rushing yards or more in the same postseason. He has set the postseason single-game rushing record for the Titans in consecutive weeks.

He also has the most yards rushing through his first four postseason games, coming in with 366 and now is at 561, beating Hall of Famer Terrell Davis and Arian Foster, who were tied with 515 through their first four.

“It’s going to be grind, grind, grind and then he’s going to bust one,” Vrabel said.

LAMAR’S LAMENT

Jackson’s superb season ended with a major thud. He finished with gaudy numbers — 31 of 59 for 365 yards, 20 carries for 143 yards — and a 15-yard TD pass to Hayden Hurst. But the Ravens flopped ignominiously.

Jackson was better than in his previous playoff game, a wild-card loss to the Chargers last year. At halftime in that one, Jackson was 2 of 8 for 17 yards and an interception for a 0.0 quarterback rating. He came on in helping Baltimore make that one close in the second half.

“I don’t care about what they say,” Jackson said about the likely criticism of his postseason showings. “This is my second year in the league. I’ve got a great team with me. We’re going to keep going and get ready for next year.”

UP NEXT

Titans: On to either Kansas City or division rival Houston in the AFC title game.

Ravens: Their superb season and 3 1/2 months of winning are over and they head into the offseason way early than expected.

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Jan 12, 2020 4:40 AM
49ers win 1st playoff game in 6 years, 27-10 over Vikings

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Richard Sherman anticipated the route for an interception and then watched the San Francisco 49ers run eight straight times for the touchdown that put them in control of their first playoff game in six years.

The dominant defense and powerful running game that carried the Niners to an 8-0 start this season delivered a 27-10 victory over the Minnesota Vikings in the divisional round Saturday.

“People keep disrespecting us. At the end of the day, all you can do is go out and execute,” Sherman said. “It felt good. That’s what we look like when we’re totally healthy.”

The return of injured defensive starters Dee Ford, Kwon Alexander and Jaquiski Tartt had the Niners (14-3) playing as they did in the first half of the season as they set a franchise playoff record by allowing only 147 yards.

Jimmy Garoppolo threw a TD pass on his opening drive as a playoff starter and then mostly watched his defense and running game take over from there. The top-seeded 49ers turned a pair of second-half turnovers by Minnesota (11-7) into 10 points.

“They’re pretty good right?” tight end George Kittle said of his defense. “It’s such a blast just to watch them, how they work together. ...

“If our defense keeps playing like that, all we have to do is not turn the ball over to win games”

Sherman set up Tevin Coleman’s second short touchdown run of the game when he beat Adam Thielen to the spot to intercept Kirk Cousins for his third career playoff interception.

Coleman had five of the eight carries on the 44-yard drive as part of a 105-yard rushing performance.

“Those guys did very well,” Coleman said of his offensive line. “They moved the guys back so I had clear holes to run through. So, yeah, they did a real good job.”

Marcus Sherels’ fumbled punt later in the third quarter led to a field goal that made it 27-10 early in the fourth quarter.

San Francisco didn’t allow Minnesota to gain a first down for more than 27 minutes of game action starting late in the second quarter.

The Niners will host the NFC championship game next week against the winner of Sunday’s game between Seattle and Green Bay.

Garoppolo threw an interception deep in his own territory late in the first half and then spent most of the second half handing the ball off to Coleman and Raheem Mostert.

There was little reason for coach Kyle Shanahan to take chances the way his defense completely bottled up talented runner Dalvin Cook. That took away Minnesota’s play-action game and forced Cousins into becoming a drop-back passer.

“We didn’t do enough offensively to give ourselves a chance to win the game,” Cousins said. “It hurts right now. It’s so raw right now, just falling short.”

Cousins finished 21 for 29 for 172 yards with his only big play coming on a 41-yard TD pass to Stefon Diggs in the first quarter.

Cook was held to 18 yards on nine carries as the Niners defense was back to its dominant early season form as the bye week helped the defense get healthy again.

“That was the No. 1 emphasis all week,” defensive lineman Nick Bosa said of the Minnesota running game. “We knew we were facing probably the best back we’ve faced all year with Dalvin, and we knew we had to earn the right to pass rush. So, that’s what we did. We took the run as serious as we could, shut it down and then we ate.”

San Francisco had six sacks and held Minnesota to 81 yards until late in the fourth quarter.

TAKE IT AWAY

Eric Kendricks intercepted a pass from Garoppolo late in the first half to give the Vikings the ball at the San Francisco 29. Minnesota couldn’t capitalize with Ford getting a third-down sack in his return to the lineup from a hamstring injury. Dan Bailey’s 39-yard field goal cut the Niners lead to 14-10 at the half. The interception was the 19th turnover this season by Garoppolo, who had the most giveaways in the regular season of any player who made the playoffs.

BLOCKING BACK

Garoppolo showed he has skills beyond his throwing. He threw a lead block on 255-pound linebacker Anthony Barr on a reverse by Deebo Samuel in the second quarter.

“Sometimes you have to remember you’re not just a quarterback, you’re a football player too,” Garoppolo said.

Samuel fumbled the ball on the play but replay ruled his knee was down, negating the turnover. That proved especially important when Coleman capped the drive with a 1-yard TD run.

BURNED AGAIN

The Vikings scored on their second drive of the game when Diggs outmaneuvered Ahkello Witherspoon for a 41-yard TD catch. It was the fifth TD pass allowed by Witherspoon in the past three games and he was replaced at cornerback the following drive by Emmanuel Moseley.

INJURIES

Vikings: RT Brian O’Neill left with a head injury after a blindside block from Nick Bosa in the third quarter following Cousins’ interception.

49ers: Mostert (calf) and Coleman (elbow) both got hurt in the second half.

UP NEXT

Vikings: The offseason.

49ers: NFC championship game next Sunday against either Seattle or Green Bay.