It wasn’t exactly how it was drawn up, but the Tennessee Titans won’t complain about Saturday’s 25-16 victory over the Washington Redskins.
The come-from-behind victory improved the Titans’ record to 9-6 and kept their playoff hopes alive heading into their regular-season finale next Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts.
The Titans claimed the victory in most unusual fashion, getting key contributions from some unlikely sources.
Backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert came in for injured Marcus Mariota and guided the winning fourth-quarter drive, throwing a 2-yard touchdown pass to MyCole Pruitt on first-and-goal to give the Titans the lead with 4:30 to play.
“That’s why he’s here. That’s his job,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said of Gabbert. “I’m really proud of him and I’m proud of the entire team because they stuck together.”
After that, the Titans’ defense, which in the first half surrendered a 17-play, 93-yard touchdown drive that ate nearly 11 minutes off the clock, rose to the occasion with interceptions of Josh Johnson on the Redskins’ final two offensive series of the game.
On the drive after Gabbert’s touchdown pass, Johnson overthrew his intended receiver and Kevin Byard picked off the ball.
The Titans’ offense then wasted most of the clock before kicking the ball back to the Redskins with 14 seconds left, nursing a 19-16 lead.
On Johnson’s final desperation throw, Malcolm Butler picked it off and returned it 56 yards for a touchdown to account for the final score.
For most of the game, it was an uphill climb for the Titans. They trailed 3-0, then pieced together an 11-play, 69-yard drive with Derrick Henry stumbling into the end zone after being tripped for a 1-yard score. The point after, however, was no good and the Titans’ lead stood at 6-3.
The Redskins took the lead back in the second quarter with a drive that chewed 10:58 off the clock and made the score 10-6.
Dustin Hopkins’ third field goal of the game gave the Redskins a 16-12 lead with 8:09 to play before Gabbert and the Titans’ offense found its rhythm with the game on the line.
On the first play, Gabbert found Taywan Taylor for 35 yards to the Washington 40 to get the drive started.
After that, the Titans went back to their bread-and-butter of the past two weeks, running Henry for chunks of yardage. Henry’s best run of the day went for 18 yards and put the Titans first-and-goal at the 2.
From there, the Titans faked the dive to Henry and Gabbert rolled out with a run/pass option, throwing to a wide-open Pruitt for the go-ahead score.
Gabbert said the mindset was just to try and put a drive together.
“It was just go win the game,” said Gabbert, who was 7 of 11 for 101 yards and the winning score. “That was kind of all we were talking about was get something going on offense, get some positive plays on first and second downs where we could stay in third and manageable. There on that drive, we hit Taywan on that high cross, and he did a great job of getting open.”
Pruitt said he was confident in the play call, knowing that all eyes would be on Henry.
“I mean, we got Derrick Henry. He’s been running the ball crazy for the last couple of weeks and they all probably expected a run in that situation,” Pruitt said. “We also sold the run, and I just snuck out of there and was wide open.”
The Redskins still had their opportunities, and the Titans’ defense that had been pushed around a good part of the day with Adrian Peterson rushing for 119 yards on 26 carries came up big when it was needed most in the person of Byard.
Byard was also the beneficiary of a well-timed blitz by Titans cornerback Malcolm Butler.
“I was just reading his eyes, and his eyes kind of took me to the play,” Byard said. “Our DBs did a great job of jamming their receivers up and our d-line did a great job of pressuring him and forcing him to throw the ball up early, and I was just right there to make the play.”
While the win was ugly, and maybe even costly, pending injury evaluations of Mariota (stinger) and Pro Bowl defensive lineman Jurrell Casey (left knee), the Titans managed to take care of business and leave themselves in position to be alive and well in the playoff chase entering the final weekend.
“This is our playoffs right here. Lose, you go home. That’s our mentality,” Taylor said after the win.
The Titans are still in need of some help — either a Baltimore Ravens or Pittsburgh Steelers loss or two losses by the Houston Texans to reach the postseason if they win next Sunday against the Colts.
The Redskins are still hanging on in the NFC but need losses by the Minnesota Vikings and the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday to avoid being eliminated.