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Tennessee Titans fan Justin Newman, front center, reacts to a call that went against the team at an outdoor viewing party in downtown Nashville on Sunday during the Titans' 35-24 loss at Kansas City in the AFC title game. / AP photo by Mark Humphrey

Admit it, Titans Nation. For a moment or two during the first half of Sunday's AFC title game at Kansas City, when your Tennessee Titans twice led the Chiefs by 10 points, you surely thought this Super Bowl dream just might come true.

Derrick Henry, who's pretty much been crowned King Henry over the past month, and more than deservedly so, was again running it pretty well. The Tennessee defense was having its moments against quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Heck, the Titans even kicked a field goal, which is something they'd managed to avoid for a month or more.

But then Kansas City woke up, much as it had a week earlier against Houston. It's actually somewhat to the Titans' credit that the final score was only 35-24 and could have been closer. They once again showed how tough and determined this team really is, even if it couldn't quite pull off a third straight postseason road win.

What was it Titans left tackle Taylor Lewan said Thursday, his comment a studied observation rather than trolling for a perceived insult or slight with which to rally around?

"Kansas City is faster than us," he noted before that day's practice. "It is what it is."

Sometimes the other team is just better. Has more weapons. Has one of those players who defines his generation at that position.

Yes, Kansas City just might be the fastest team in the NFL. It certainly showcases that speed with the multipurpose Tyreek Hill. There's also no more lethal tight end on the planet right now than Travis Kelce. But what makes KC special is quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who can beat you with his arm and his feet.

Mahomes torched the Titans in November for more than 400 passing yards but lost 35-32 in the Music City. This time around, the game played in Arrowhead Stadium, he threw for three touchdowns, ran for another and actually led the Chiefs in rushing with 53 yards as they totaled just more than 400 offensive yards.

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Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill hands off to Derrick Henry during the second half of the AFC title game on Sunday in Kansas City, Mo. The host Chiefs won 35-24 to avenge a regular-season loss from November in Nashville and advance to the Super Bowl. Henry and Tannehill, both crucial to the team's midseason turnaround and playoff run, will soon be free agents. / AP photo by Charlie Riedel

Whether or not he can work similar magic in the Super Bowl against the San Francisco 49ers — who beat Green Bay 37-20 in Sunday evening's NFC title game — is another matter, of course. Niners defensive coordinator Robert Saleh may be the best in the business right now.

If Mahomes and Co. can solve that defense,which twice crushed Green Bay and its likely future Hall of Fame quarterback, Aaron Rodgers — they'll richly deserve to win pro football's grandest prize, which they haven't played for since knocking off the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV.

That was 50 years ago, when Richard Nixon was in the White House, the Beatles were on the verge of breaking up, "Midnight Cowboy" won Best Picture at the Academy Awards and the average price for a gallon of gasoline was 36 cents.

At that time the Chiefs were something of football royalty, having played in the very first Super Bowl — though it wasn't called that then, but the AFL-NFL World Championship Game — before winning it all three years later. In fact, late Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt is credited with coining "Super Bowl," and his name is on the AFC championship trophy.

Despite all that, 50 years came and went without KC returning to the Super Bowl, though Chiefs coach Andy Reid surely has the early lead regarding the best quote (so far) from those competing for this year's Lombardi Trophy.

Said Reid on Sunday regarding this season's biggest game being in the Miami area: "Got to get on a diet so I can fit into my clothes."

Still, in our neck of the woods, it's easy to forget just what an amazing reboot it was for the Titans from their 2-4 start and a 16-0 loss at Denver in Week 6.

Of course, had that defeat not been so dispiriting, Titans brass might have waited longer to bench quarterback Marcus Mariota in favor of Ryan Tannehill. And waiting as much as one week longer might have doomed this Music City Miracle 2.0 before it began.

Unfortunately, the two biggest offensive contributors to this run — Henry and Tannehill — are also about to be free agents who will no doubt rightly demand to be shown the money for such efforts.

Some predict Henry, this year's NFL rushing leader, could demand as much as $13 million a year. Tannehill is almost certain to bring close to $20 million, possibly another $3 million or $4 million more than that.

Given that plus a history of frugal spending, would the Titans uncharacteristically choose to keep them both?

More to the point, how could they choose not to?

As second-year coach Mike Vrabel was wrapping up his media responsibilities Sunday, someone asked him what made him most proud if these Titans.

"We're not front-runners," he said. "We don't pout. We don't disappear."

If Titans brass can keep Tannehill and Henry from disappearing to another franchise this offseason, they just might wind up among the front-runners to reach the Super Bowl this time next year.

If not, well, they've had their fans on a diet of low expectations for far more years than not.

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Mark Wiedmer

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @TFPWeeds.

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