Titans back in playoff hunt
OAKLAND, Calif. — With starting quarterback Jake Locker out for the season and Tennessee having lost five of six games, the playoffs seemed a distant hope for the Titans.
One clutch drive by backup Ryan Fitzpatrick put the Titans right back in the thick of the AFC playoff hunt.
Fitzpatrick threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Kendall Wright with 10 seconds remaining to cap a mistake-free performance that led Tennessee to a 23-19 victory over the Raiders on Sunday.
“That would have been a big, big loss for us in terms of what the rest of the season was going to look like,” Fitzpatrick said. “We knew this was a ‘gotta-have-it’ drive at the end of the game and the guys really stepped up.”
Fitzpatrick also threw a 54-yard TD pass to Justin Hunter, and Rob Bironas added three field goals to give Tennessee (5-6) its second win in seven games. Despite the recent slump, the Titans find themselves in a six-way tie for the final playoff spot in the AFC.
The Raiders (4-7) missed a chance to get into that group as their defense failed to hold onto a late lead after Matt McGloin threw a 27-yard touchdown pass to Marcel Reece with 6:10 to play and Sebastian Janikowski missed two field goals.
“To let a team drive down late in the game today and then get a touchdown to get the go-ahead score, it’s pretty disappointing,” safety Charles Woodson said. “So we didn’t expect to have that happen today. We expect to do much better than that.”
Here are five things to take away from the Titans’ win over the Raiders:
PLAYOFF POSITIONING: With Miami and the New York Jets both losing earlier in the day, the stakes for this meeting were quite clear: The winner would be part of a six-way tie for the final AFC playoff spot with five weeks left in the season. The Titans are in prime position after beating three of those other five teams head-to-head, while the Raiders are among three teams a game back.
“We knew going into this one, in our world it was a playoff game,” coach Mike Munchak said. “We couldn’t fall to 4-7, we knew that. I’m sure they felt the same way, so that was a huge drive.”
THIRD DOWN THUNDER: Fitzpatrick was at his best on third down, completing 10 of 14 passes for 168 yards and scrambling for another first down as Tennessee converted 10 of 18 third-down tries. Both of Fitzpatrick’s touchdown passes came on third down, including the game-winner when Wright beat Tracy Porter on an out pattern from the slot to win it.
“You convert them, it gives your whole offense a boost of energy,” Wright said. “It keeps us on the field. We just got to put up more points.”
SCRANTON SHOWDOWN: This game had particular interest in Scranton, Pa., where McGloin and Munchak grew up. There was a special victory bell trophy modeled after the one given to the winner of the annual battle between city’s two high schools. McGloin and Munchak, who both also played college ball at Penn State, embraced after the game in their first formal meeting.
“It was good to see him after there,” McGloin said. “I know there was a lot of people from Scranton who were watching the game today and supporting both of us.”
SLUMPING SEABASS: The result might have been different if Sebastian Janikowski had a more consistent game kicking field goals for Oakland. He pushed a 32-yarder wide right at the end of the first half and a 48-yarder wide left in the third quarter. It marked just the fourth time in his career that he missed two field goals inside 50 yards in the same game. Janikowski has missed four kicks inside 50 yards this season after making 49 of 50 the past two years as he adjusts to new holder Marquette King after the departure of longtime mate Shane Lechler in the offseason.
“We’re not making them, not consistently enough,” Raiders coach Dennis Allen said. “We have to continue to work to get better there.”
RECEIVING DUO: Fitzpatrick had success no matter which of his two wide receivers he targeted. He completed six passes for 109 yards to Hunter and six passes for 103 yards to Wright. Hunter had just 122 yards receiving in his rookie season before this game and Wright had never had more than 98 yards in his two seasons.
“Kendall’s really stepped up all year for us,” Fitzpatrick said. “He’s been a really reliable guy for me, a guy that I really trust. But Justin Hunter today, all of his catches he really stepped up and made some plays.”