KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Mike Mularkey had heard the rumblings about his job status, and seen all those reports that claimed he would be fired by the Titans if they lost their playoff opener to Kansas City.
Perhaps he’ll have a little support now.
Tennessee rallied from a 21-3 halftime hole on Saturday to beat the Chiefs 22-21 in their AFC wild-card matchup. It was the first postseason win for the franchise in 14 years, and it left Mularkey feeling a bit vindicated when he addressed a handful of reporters deep inside Arrowhead Stadium.
“I don’t think you guys believe me, when they come in the locker room, there is a look — they’re going to come back and win this game,” he said.
“It’s on the sideline. It always is. It always has been with this team. I wish you guys would give them a little credit for it. They stick together and they’ve got each other’s backs, and they always have. And they came through today when we really needed it.”
When their coach really needed it, too.
Mularkey was asked whether the speculation had an effect on him, and he replied: “If it has an effect on my family, it has an effect on me. So, yeah. I’d say it had a big effect on me.”
Then, he was asked whether he felt sure no matter what happens in the playoffs.
“No,” he said. “I haven’t had any support to say that I was (secure). No. I just assumed the worst.”
Good thing he got the best.
Marcus Mariota threw for 205 yards and two touchdowns, the first to himself — the ball was batted back to him and he dived into the end zone — and the second to Eric Decker, a 22-yard strike with about six minutes to go that gave Tennessee its first lead of the game.
Derrick Henry added a career-high 156 yards rushing and another score for the Titans.
“Throughout this entire season, through ups and downs, guys, the energy doesn’t change,” Mariota said. “You’ve got to give a lot of credit to the guys in that locker room for continuing to believe.”
Meanwhile, the Chiefs squandered another chance for their first home playoff win since January 1994, a stretch of postseason futility that includes heartbreaks of just about every stripe.
“The sick part about this is it’s final,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said, “but the guys that are going back, you have to feel this. Coaches and players, we have to change it around.
“It’s not good enough,” he added, “and that’s the bottom line.”
As the Titans wait to learn whether a trip to New England or Pittsburgh is on deck, and the Chiefs begin thinking about next season, here are a few more takeaways from the game:
OFFICIATING FUROR: The Chiefs complained vigorously about several calls by the officials, including two in which whistles for forward progress took away fumbles. One led to a Tennessee field goal and the other took away a 2-point conversion that would have given Kansas City a late lead. “I can’t go there,” Reid said. “Everything I say, those guys are protected. You can go talk to them. Question them.”
INJURY NOTES: The Titans emerged from the game healthy, while the Chiefs lost emotional leaders on both sides of the ball. All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce left with a concussion in the first half and big defensive tackle Chris Jones left with an ankle injury in the second half. “Kelce, that hurts,” Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said. “A player of his caliber, not having him out there hurts.”
RUNNING ANGRY: Henry had bemoaned his performance as the featured back last week, when he ran 28 times for 51 yards against Jacksonville. He was back in the role Saturday with Demarco Murray still out with an injury, and this time his pounding attack paid dividends. “”I just wanted to have a better performance than I had last week,” he said. “I just wanted to be able to come out here and execute the plays that were called and help this team and this offense.”
RECORD RALLY: Only two other road teams have rallied from at least 18 down to win a playoff game in NFL history. The Cowboys came back from 21-3 in the first half to beat the 49ers 30-28 in December 1972, and the Lions came back from 27-7 in the second half to beat the 49ers in December 1957.
CHIEFS FUTURE: Smith is still under contract next season, but the cash-strapped Chiefs are expected to trade or release him and turn the team over to first-round pick Patrick Mahomes II.
Meanwhile, veteran linebackers such as Derrick Johnson and Tamba Hali could be contemplating retirement. “I know those guys are hurting,” Reid said. “All those decisions are way down the line.”