Titans clinch 2nd straight AFC South, beating Miami 34-3
By TERESA M. WALKER
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The Tennessee Titans are dancing as back-to-back AFC South champs in a season when they lost the NFL's leading rusher at Halloween and have used 88 players - most ever in a non-strike season for the NFL.
Ryan Tannehill threw two touchdown passes as the Tennessee Titans clinched their second straight division title Sunday, snapping the Miami Dolphins' seven-game winning streak with a 34-3 win.
"Winning takes care of everything," Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. "That's what I learned a long time ago in athletics. Winning takes care of everything."
The Titans (11-5) won their second straight overall and third in four games to clinch their first back-to-back division titles since the start of the AFL when this franchise was the Houston Oilers and won three straight Eastern Division championships. They also won 11 games for a second consecutive season for the first time since 2002-03 - and currently are the AFC's top seed after Kansas City lost at Cincinnati.
Tennessee finished off its win and was celebrating with some nice dance moves in the locker room wearing T-shirts reading "TITANS RUN THE SOUTH" while fans stood around TVs on the concourses watching the Chiefs lose, which moved the Titans to the top spot due to their Oct. 24 win over the Chiefs.
"It's definitely good to be in this position," Titans Pro Bowl safety Kevin Byard said. "Usually, the last game of the year we're fighting for something anyway. It's good to go into the last game of the season trying to fight to be this No. 1 seed."
They play at Houston next weekend.
Miami came in as the first team in NFL history to win seven straight after a seven-game skid. That surge helped push the Dolphins into the third and final wild-card spot in the AFC, but the loss ended their playoff hopes.
"Anytime you don't have the performance that you're looking for, you're disappointed," Miami coach Brian Flores said.
On a cold and rainy day, the Titans ran more than they threw. Tannehill was 13 of 18 for 120 yards and a 127.1 passer rating against the team that drafted him eighth overall in 2012 before trading him to Tennessee in March 2019. Tannehill is 31-15 as the Titans' starter with his third straight playoff berth clinched.
"It was a great win for us," Tannehill said. "Obviously, a lot was on the line for us as a team and excited that we came out and played well, a full game as a team. Obviously this was an important one for me being where we're at in the season and having the opportunity to win the division first and foremost."
D'Onta Foreman ran for 132 yards and a TD. Dontrell Hilliard ran for a 39-yard TD as the Titans scored 10 points off a pair of turnovers by Tua Tagovailoa.
The Titans also sacked Tagovailoa four times - a season-high for the Dolphins quarterback. David Long, the linebacker drafted with the sixth-round pick included by Miami in the Tannehill trade, picked off Tagovailoa with 2:49 left to set up the Hillard TD.
Miami came in leading the NFL with 45 sacks, four shy of the franchise record last set in 2005. The Dolphins didn't get to Tannehill until the third quarter when Jerome Baker ended the Titans' first drive of the second half.
The Titans needed only a 46-yard drive to take the lead for good. Tannehill capped the series with a 1-yard TD toss to Geoff Swaim late in the first quarter.
Tagovailoa had the ball slip out of his hand while trying to pass, and Elijah Molden recovered for the Titans. Randy Bullock kicked a 23-yard field goal for a 10-0 lead.
Foreman padded the Tennessee lead to 17-3 with a 21-yard run late in the first half. He also set up Tannehill's second TD pass with a 35-yard run out of the wildcat, and Tannehill found a wide-open Anthony Firkser for a 15-yard TD and a 24-3 lead.
Tagovailoa was 18 of 38 for 205 yards, the kind of performance that won't help doubts about whether he's the quarterback to lead Miami to the playoffs.
"At the end of the day, I can control what I can control, and that's to be the best version of myself for this team," Tagovailoa said. "We've got to move on to the next game at this point. We'll look at the mistakes we've made, make some corrections, and move on."
Miami wide receiver Jaylen Waddle came in needing six catches for the rookie receptions mark of 101 set by Anquan Boldin in 2003. Waddle caught a short pass for no gain in the first quarter, then didn't catch another pass until early in the fourth quarter when Tagovailoa found him for a 45-yard gain.
Waddle finished with three catches for 47 yards, giving him 99 receptions for the season.
Titans tight end MyCole Pruitt hurt his right ankle on a running play in the second quarter. His leg was put in an air cast, and he was carted off the field to the locker room. Miami linebacker Elandon Roberts hurt his groin early in the third quarter.
The Dolphins host New England in the regular-season finale next weekend.
The Titans wrap up the regular season visiting Houston for a third straight season.
(Corrects spelling of Boldin)
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Updated January 2, 2022