It's been said that a fool and his money are soon parted. If Houston's 51-31 loss to Kansas City in Sunday's AFC divisional playoff game is any indication, so are a foolish football coach and his Super Bowl dreams.
Maybe this result wasn't a good thing for the upstart Tennessee Titans, who now travel to K.C. on Sunday for the AFC championship game with a spot in the Super Bowl on the line. Or maybe it was. The Music City Miracles 2.0 did beat both Houston and K.C. during the regular season, but they also lost to the Texans in Nissan Stadium.
However, there is little doubt that Houston coach Bill O'Brien's foiled decision to fake a punt from his own 31 in the second quarter gave the Chiefs a lot of momentum when they trailed 24-7. By halftime it was 28-24 in favor of Kansas City. By the time the Texans scored again, the Chiefs had run off 41 straight points.
"Yeah, I think these games — games are momentum, momentum swings," O'Brien said afterward. "We had momentum at that point, just felt like we were going to try to make a play there and it just didn't work."
Gambles such as fake punts always must be viewed by the coaches who call them through a risk/reward prism. The risk of that fake punt — returning the ball to K.C. with a short field in an Arrowhead Stadium full of Chiefs backers looking for something, anything to stir their hometown heroes — wasn't worth the possible reward of a first down.
Better to punt it deep and attempt to let your defense continue your momentum against a Chiefs offense that hadn't shown much to that point. That O'Brien thought otherwise might go down as one of the most disastrous gambles in NFL playoff history.
Then again, maybe the Chiefs are so explosive it wouldn't have mattered. Either way, the Titans, having already won two road playoff games following Saturday night's stunning 28-12 victory over top-seeded Baltimore, now get a chance to capture a third straight away from home to return to their sport's grandest stage for the first time in 20 years.
The last team to win three road playoff games as a sixth seed? The 2010 Green Bay Packers, who finished as Super Bowl champs that year.
"It's not just me," Titans running back Derrick Henry said after rushing for 195 yards against a Ravens defense that was giving up an average of less than half of that (93 yards) on its way to 12 straight wins prior to Saturday.
"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."
It all worked so well against the Ravens that Henry even threw for a touchdown on a jump pass to Corey Davis.
"I put it perfect, man," Henry told The Associated Press afterward. "I haven't done that pass since high school. I feel like I still got it."
What the Titans may have more of than any team still alive in these playoffs is momentum derived from old-fashioned football. Ball-control offense. Sound defense. Strong kicking game. They outplayed and out-coached the New England Patriots on wild-card weekend. They did the same to the Ravens on Saturday night. As if to rub salt in a deep, painful wound involving Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh's inability to beat Ohio State, the following observation has overtaken the internet regarding Ohio State alumnus and second-year Titans coach Mike Vrabel and Harbaugh's brother John, the longtime coach of the Ravens: "A Buckeye beats a Harbaugh — a story as old as time."
Mostly, there has emerged a quiet professionalism with these Titans under Vrabel that strongly belies their overall lack of playoff experience, given that this is the first time they've won more than one postseason playoff game since the 1999 squad's Super Bowl run.
Of course, everyone still alive in these playoffs looks as if they could reach the Super Bowl in Miami on Feb. 2. San Francisco comfortably took care of Minnesota on Saturday. Green Bay outlasted Seattle on Sunday night thanks to the matchless quarterbacking of Aaron Rodgers.
Well, matchless against anyone left in the field but Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who tossed five TD passes as Kansas City became the first team in NFL history to win a playoff game by at least 20 points after trailing by 20 or more.
So who reaches the Super Bowl? The 49ers look too solid across the board to lose a rematch against a Packers bunch they humbled 37-8 in late November. As for Titans-Chiefs, Tennessee edged K.C. inside Nissan Stadium 35-32 on Nov. 10th to first signal it had playoff potential. It also stunned the Chiefs in the playoffs at Arrowhead Stadium two years ago. Yet if Sunday against the Texans was any indication, this will be a different Kansas City team the Titans will have to upset this time around.
But a Saturday night quote from Henry also shouldn't be ignored.
"Watch us work," he told CBS. "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."
If the Titans go into Arrowhead on Sunday and upset the Chiefs, they won't have to talk much, because everyone else will be talking about them for two straight weeks prior to Super Bowl LIV.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.