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Glennon's Take: Knocking Off The Big Dog

Posted Jan 12, 2018

The fifth-seeded Titans will face quite a challenge when they battle the top-seeded Patriots on Saturday. But a number of Titans players and coaches have been part of big playoff upsets in the past, so they know anything can happen on a given day.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- In round one of the AFC playoffs, the Titans proved to themselves – and to the football world – that they could knock off a heavily favored opponent on the road.

Both the stakes and the odds will be higher on Saturday, when the Titans face a New England team that's a two-touchdown favorite to advance to the AFC Championship game.

But we all know that playoff upsets – big ones – are part of the NFL's long and entertaining history.

Here are some examples of Titans coaches and players who've bucked the playoff odds to record big wins over the years, and what those postseason experiences might mean for Tennessee on Saturday:

The Game: Pittsburgh at Indianapolis, AFC Divisional playoffs

The Date: Jan. 15, 2006

Current Titan involved: Titans defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, who was Pittsburgh's defensive coordinator

The Line: Colts by 9.5

The Result: Steelers won 21-18

What happened: The sixth-seeded Steelers sacked Colts quarterback Peyton Manning five times, limited him to 247 passing yards and held Indy to three-of-13 on third downs. Pittsburgh won when the Colts, who had started that season 13-0, missed a potential game-tying field goal in the closing seconds.

Commentary: “We had played (the Colts) earlier in the year and they beat us pretty soundly,” LeBeau said. “I think in the end, that worked to our favor. They were just a little complacent. Our guys were motivated to play a little bit better. We had a great game that day. We sacked Peyton a lot of times. Sometimes you gets the bear and sometimes the bear gets you. We got them that time.”

What he's carried forward: “No matter what the point spread is or whatever, there's not too much of an underdog in the NFL. Anybody can beat anybody. Anybody that's been around the league or played in it or is playing in it today, they understand that because it happens every week. People have impressive records because they've got damn good football teams. But the game is going to come down to who does what in the 60 minutes you're playing that game.”


The Game: Pittsburgh at Houston, AFC Wildcard game

The Date: Dec. 31, 1989

Current Titan involved: Titans head coach Mike Mularkey was a Steelers tight end

The Line: Oilers by 7

The Result: Steelers won 26-23 (OT)

What happened: The Steelers, who'd been 4-6 at one point during the regular season, barely edged into the playoffs that season. But visiting Pittsburgh stung the high-scoring Oilers in overtime, winning on Gary Anderson's 50-yard field goal. Mularkey caught three passes for 40 yards in the upset, including a reception on the game's first play.

Commentary: “We'd been beaten twice by the Oilers pretty good that year, both home and away. Nobody gave us a chance. But we really went down there and played hard, and we beat them when no one expected us to.”

What he's carried forward: “You don't have a lot of room for error. You can't make a lot of mistakes, especially against a team that doesn't make a lot of mistakes. So certainly turnovers are a big factor. But everybody's game has got to be raised a level and they've got to know what they're doing.”


The Game: Pittsburgh at Denver, AFC Wildcard game

The Date: Jan. 8, 2012

Current Titans involved: Titans wide receiver Eric Decker and linebacker Wesley Woodyard, who were playing for Denver

The Line: Steelers by 8

The Result: Broncos won 29-23 (OT)

What happened: The Broncos had squeaked into the playoffs with an 8-8 record as AFC West champs, but were given little chance at beating the Steelers. Denver captured a stunning victory 11 seconds into overtime when Tim Tebow connected with Demaryius Thomas for an 80-yard touchdown. Woodyard and company sacked Ben Roethisberger five times and intercepted him once.

Decker commentary: “We were at home, but other than that, no one really gave us any chance of winning. But anyone would love the underdog role. Expectations are that you're going to lose, that they're going to roll over you. But you have to have that mentality that you have to prove something.”

Woodyard commentary: “I think the only ones who thought we were going to win that Pittsburgh game were the guys in the locker room and the choir that came and sang to us for Tebow when we were walking into the stadium. Those were probably the only two groups who believed.”

What Decker's carried forward: “I think in all big games, you have to win the turnover battle. You have to eliminate mistakes. Everything gets magnified at this point of the season. Just get back to what you do best. Don't try to overdo anything. Just be you, play your role and see what happens.”

What Woodyard's carried forward: “You have to have a strong group of guys as leaders that believe as a team what you want to accomplish. You get out there on the field and it's playoff time. It doesn't matter what seed you are. You've got a shot to win any game. All you want, especially when you're the underdog, you just want that one shot.”


The Game: Indianapolis at Denver

The Date: Jan. 11, 2015

Current Titan involved: Titans linebacker Erik Walden was playing for Indianapolis

The Line: Broncos by 10

The Result: Colts won 24-13

What happened: The Broncos had won all eight of their home games during the regular season. But the Colts' defense shut down Peyton Manning, holding him to a 26-of-46 day for 211 yards – a quarterback rating of 29.0. Walden recorded one of Indy's two sacks and also posted two tackles for loss.

Commentary: “It was really just our tone that I remember the most. Everyone was locked in and ready to go. When (the Broncos) did make a play, nobody blinked. You just moved on to the next play – just kept going for 60 minutes.”

What he's carried forward: “Whether it's the top seed or anyone else, they can be beaten. You've got to line up and play the game. So get out there and play, do your job – do your job well – and see what happens.”

— Reach John Glennon at glennonsports@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @glennonsports.