Let's face it, being a fan of this franchise has not been easy. My early rooting years go back to the Earl Campbell days. Those Luv Ya Blue Oilers were so good back then and had a legit chance, but Pittsburgh always stood in our way. In the 1978 season, our first AFC Championship Game we got the worst weather possible. We were a team built on a dominating running game, built for post-season bad weather runs, but the Three Rivers field was a sheet of ice. Earl never got going and we were trounced.
The following year we made it back to the AFCC and Three Rivers again. We were banging it out with them when Renfro caught a touchdown that would have tied the score... but was inexplicably ruled no catch by the referees. It wasn't even a hard call. It's hard enough to win on the road against a great opponent; it's impossible when you don't get credit for what you actually do.
That one was tough to swallow. The Oilers, as such, in spite of having some really good teams with Warren Moon, would never get back to the AFCC. The Run n' Shoot teams were decidedly not built for the playoffs. We would constantly choke away leads and fall short with comebacks. Eventually things got so bad the team was forced out of Houston. As an out of state fan I followed them to Tennessee where I hoped they would attract a rabid following and start making some noise again.
It took a bit to settle in but once they had a home in the Coliseum, they went on a magical run. First they paid the Bills back for the playoff choke (and BTW the refs had a big hand in that playoff debacle as well) with the MCM. Then they beat the Jags for the third straight time, once again on the road in the AFCC. The Jags only had a better seed than us that year because literally nobody else could beat them. We went 13-3, they went 14-2 with us hanging both losses on them. I mean are you kidding me? Talk about getting no help. The thing I remember most about that AFCC game is Mason's kick return (after a safety). We were handling them again but the game was close. We needed somebody to do something special and DMase came through -- gave us a two score lead lead that we would not relinquish. That was another team built around a punishing runner, Eddie George and stout defense. Of course we fell to the Rams in the Super Bowl (basically due to a lucky bomb that Warner threw up for grabs just before he got annihilated by Kearse that was misplayed by a secondary decimated by injuries).
The rest of the 2000's saw some dominant Titans teams that just couldn't get over the hump. The hump was usually named Ravens. When we finally did have a team that rose to the top and had an inside track to hosting an AFCC or two the Ravens were there to spoil the party, getting dominated but somehow still beating us due to bad luck, bad kicking, bad game plans -- unethical cheating through intentional injuries. Fisherball was built to win close games. It worked many times, but it left you vulnerable to bad things happening. They always seemed to happen against the Ravens.
We made it back to the AFCC a few years later and played a potent Raiders team, once again on the road. We were a hot team and solid all around. It was a 3 point game into the 4Q but then the Raiders dominated that quarter and won going away. Nobody made a play late.
Which brings us to the present day and our fifth AFCC, once again on the road. We are 1-3 so far. We have never hosted one... always on the road. Always coming in as battle-tested underdogs. Always run-heavy teams with standout defenses and game manager QBs. Three of the 4 were against (at the time) division rivals -- massive arch-enemies. We were annihilated in the first, a victim of weather that neutralized our main weapon. We gave them all they could handle in the second but were screwed by incompetent refs. We triumphed in the third! When we needed a play one of our most dynamic play-makers made one and tipped the scales in our direction. We went toe to toe with a dangerous offense in the fourth but ultimately could not stop them when it mattered most.
So which game will the fifth be like? Again we enter with a bruising RB, the second coming of Earl, impossible to tackle when he gets a head of steam. As a subplot bonus, King Henry was no king until our previous generation's bruising back took him under his wing and explained what it would take. Since that Eddie Kung Fu grasshopper moment Henry has been the best RB in the league... maybe ever? It's unreal.
And is Tannehill really a game manager QB? The two playoff box scores would indicate yes, but we know that's deceiving. He's been quite efficient when called upon. The shocking thing is that we didn't really need him to do much in the first two games. Yes, because of Henry, but also because of the DEFENSE. As mind-blowing as the running game has been, the performance of the defense is what I did not see coming. Frankly they seemed kind of mediocre for much of the year. Lots of good players but as a unit just not elite. Until the playoffs.
I was impressed with what they did against the Patriots, but I didn't understand what was happening until the Ravens game. The Patriots were a wounded animal offensively and I kind of thought Brady was washed up. Brady played better than I expected but so did our defense. That goal line stand changed the game completely and was a sign of things to come. Holding the dynastic Patriots to 13 in their own home was something to be very proud of.
But holding the record-setting Ravens to 12 in their own home in a game in which their offense was playing catch-up the whole time is somewhat miraculous. The Charm City Miracle? I had a hard time believing what I was seeing. Pees devised a brilliant game plan but even so it would have been ineffective if the players hadn't been able to execute it. Up and down the roster though the players came through with big plays. Casey with a strip sack. The whole secondary batting away balls. Great tackling (usually). Great discipline (except for the Evans blitz whiff, but worth a try once or twice). FOUR fourth down stops. Our short yardage defense is elite.
This was a revelation. Not only do we have the best running game, not only do we have a ruthlessly efficient QB that we haven't even really needed much but now we also have a dominating defense with the coaches winning the game plan battle and players playing their best games of the season? This may be the perfect storm on defense. Evans has become a supersonic guided missile. Simmons is verging on beast mode. Casey is a freed up wild animal. Honor bends like Gumby. Adoree has come back from injury like a wet blanket. This new guy Brock is the real deal -- a few times a game I think to myself nice play Brock. Vaccaro is flying through the air powered by fan love, Byard is a big-play waiting to happen. Logan Ryan is invaluable. DaQuan is a brick wall. Roberson contributing. Long knifing through gaps. Old man Woodyard fresh as a daisy ready tackling everything near him. Jayon come back we need you!
They will certainly have their hands full with this KC attack. However, unless the last two games were some sort of fluky mirage, we'll have a good game plan to slow them down and we'll have players making plays to stop drives and hopefully get turnovers.
So there's a few ways we can win this game.
Plan A : Do what we did in the first two games. Ride a running attack to a lead and play a field position game, limiting their offense to 3's and 0's as much as we can. That we play the weakest rushing defense so far in the playoffs gives me great hope that we can go on long drives and keep Mahomes on the bench getting cold, literally and figuratively.
If KC's offense turns out to be too good for us, then
Plan B : Open up the throttle on offense. Instead of 70/30 running, go 50/50 or 40/60. Tannehill would have to play well under heavy pressure. He will.
Plan C : KC's defense plays their best game and their offense does its usual. We trail late but it's within reach. Tannehill will need to lead a one or two score comeback. He can do it. He hasn't had to yet in the playoffs, so it's a mystery to all of us whether he can or not. I have one request for the coaches if this comes to pass. Please please please do not take Henry off the field unless he needs a breather. Use him in the short passing game and continue to mix in runs. I think we get much easier to defend when he's not out there. You can almost see the sigh of relief from the defenders as they realize they can just drop back into coverage and tee off on the pass rush. If the offensive coaches can figure out how to make that work (what's wrong with hitting Henry streaking across the middle 4 yards from the LOS? I wouldn't want to tackle that freight train) then I think we're unstoppable even in catch-up mode.
Here's to a great game and no injuries. KC fans you have a heck of a team, a generational QB, and your own tortuous history. I'm sure whatever happens on Sunday it'll be epic.