Now 3-1 as starter, Tannehill gives Titans hope at their bye
With the 31-year-old quarterback helping his team climb back to .500, the Titans now have more than just hope they can make a run at a playoff berth after their bye.
“You feel it man,” cornerback Logan Ryan said of what Tannehill has done for the Titans (5-5). “It’s a team sport. He’s a quarterback, and he’s 3-1 since he’s been our quarterback. He’s scored points for us. Any time you’re scoring points, I tell you we’re going to win the game. We’re going to find a way to win the game, and he did a great job of bailing us out.”
This isn’t what the Titans had in mind in March when they traded with Miami for the eighth overall pick in the 2012 draft.
Back then, Tennessee was looking to upgrade its backup to Marcus Mariota, who hadn’t played a full 16-game season through his first four seasons because of injury. Tannehill came in on a one-year deal, and the Titans didn’t consider him as a starter.
The franchise’s plan was to have Tannehill available only if something happened.
“I think that now where he’s at starting for us, it’s been everything that we’d hoped for having him come in — to be ready to go, to assume that role,” coach Mike Vrabel said.
The Titans benched Mariota during a 16-0 loss in Denver and turned to Tannehill, looking to jump-start an offense that had managed only one touchdown in the previous 10 periods. Tennessee was 2-4 with its playoff hopes dimming and fans starting to call for Vrabel and general manager Jon Robinson to be fired.
Tannehill has come through.
He’s thrown for 1,017 yards with eight touchdowns and only three interceptions despite being sacked 13 times in his four starts. Better yet, the Titans are scoring 26.2 points a game — plenty of production for a defense that the NFL’s No. 9 scoring unit, giving up only 19.7 points.
Safety Kevin Byard said the Titans now need to get back to holding teams to 20 points or fewer, which they did for the first seven games.
“Ryan Tannehill, he’s been patient in his process getting traded from Miami, pretty much being patient knowing he was coming to be the backup quarterback,” Byard said. “And when he got his number called and when he got his shot, he’s making a lot of great plays.”
Tannehill posted a 133.9 passer rating in the Titans’ 35-32 win over Kansas City last weekend, the third time he’s had a rating over 100 in this span. He turned in his third game-winning drive in that span and 16th of his career, starting the drive by running for 18 yards. He threw a pass for 20 yards to Anthony Firkser, then found Adam Humphries for a 23-yard TD pass with 23 seconds left.
He capped the drive by running for the first 2-point conversion of his career.
And Tannehill is having fun.
“I love preparing, just trying to push these guys to get the most out of them,” Tannehill said. “Game days are a lot of fun, especially when you win. I’m having a lot of fun right now. We’ve just got to keep grinding, keep putting the work in and getting ourselves ready to play every Sunday.”
He is averaging 8.5 yards per pass attempt and has a 104.4 passer rating for the season, according to Pro Football Reference. Both would be career highs for the quarterback due to hit the free agent market in March.
“Tannehill’s done an amazing job,” left tackle Taylor Lewan said. “I mean he sits in the pocket man. He moves around that pocket really well. He fires some rockets. And I think there’s a confidence about him that is really good.”
The Titans need that to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2017 and first under Vrabel. Their final six opponents all currently have winning records, making Tennessee’s finish one of the toughest in the NFL.
Four of those games are inside the AFC South, including two against division leader Houston (6-3).
“We have some fight in this team, some scratch and claw, picked against,” Ryan said. “That’s cool. But whoever’s on the field, we’re going to fight to the end.”