The Tennessee Titans have established themselves as one of the most interesting teams of the 2020 NFL season. Despite being the site of the league's first COVID-19 outbreak and having to deal with several injuries as well as schedule changes, Mike Vrabel's team is 5-0 and has shown no signs of slowing down. While this team shocked the NFL world by defeating the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens in the postseason last year to make it all the way to the AFC Championship game, many tabbed this team as a prime candidate to regress. That simply has not been the case through six weeks of the new year.
A major reason for this recent run was a decision Vrabel actually made last October. During a 16-0 loss to the Denver Broncos last season, Vrabel benched Marcus Mariota for Ryan Tannehill. The former No. 8 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft took over as the full-time starter for the Titans the next game, and went on an impressive run that no one could have predicted. Since Tannehill became the starter, the Titans are 14-4 including postseason games. Tennessee has entered the red zone 53 times since Tannehill took over, and the Titans have scored a touchdown on 44 of those trips. According to Ian Hartitz of Pro Football Focus, Tannehill's 93.3 PFF passing grade since 2019 is No. 2 among 48 qualified quarterbacks. He also has the No. 1 QB rating (116) and is averaging the most passing yards per attempt (8.9).
Tannehill has also been the perfect running mate for Derrick Henry, who is the league's reigning rushing champion. Their potential as a dynamic duo was on full display during the Titans' 42-36 overtime win over the Houston Texans on Sunday, as the Titans became the first team in NFL history to have a 350-yard passer and a 200-yard rusher in the same game. Tannehill completed 30 of 41 passes for 364 yards, four touchdowns and one interception in the victory, and three of his touchdowns came in the first half -- which marks the second time he has thrown as many in the first two quarters of a game this season. No other quarterback has accomplished that so far this year. His fourth touchdown toss was the game-tying score -- a perfect pass to A.J. Brown in the back corner of the end zone with four seconds remaining in regulation.
Tannehill sat down with CBS Sports this week to discuss the impressive run he has been on as of late, and also to promote USAA's Salute To Service Virtual Lounge. The Pro Bowl quarterback will be hosting an exclusive chalk talk for military members, veterans and their families on Tuesday, and it's an initiative that he's excited to be a part of since he will get to break down some of his best plays from the season.
The hype around Tannehill and the Titans has reached new levels, as the Titans have scored at least 40 points in back-to-back games for the first time since 1999. If you recall, that's the year the Titans went to the Super Bowl. Whether it was the season-opening low-scoring victory against the Broncos or the recent blowout win over the Buffalo Bills, Tannehill has been successful when it comes to keeping his team in the win column. While some of Tennessee's wins this year haven't been the prettiest, Tannehill says that having those close battles in the early stage of the season bodes well for the Titans moving forward.
"We are who we are, we just go out and compete and find a way to win," Tannehill told CBS Sports. "I don't think we're worried about trying to convince anybody, we are going to go out every weekend and do whatever it takes to try to win a game. I don't think we have the flash of some teams or the market of some teams but at the end of the day, we are a team that believes in each other, we've been through a lot of adversity already on the field and found a way to win in some tight games."
Tennessee has also had to face adversity off of the field this season. The Titans struggled to contain a COVID-19 outbreak earlier this month, as the virus reached 23 players and staff members in all. It forced the team to move up their bye week to Week 4, and to play a game against Buffalo on Tuesday and then a game against Houston five days later. Tannehill admitted that the Titans were a little "ticked off" about how they were treated during this COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent league investigation, but he is proud of how his team rebounded.
"I'm proud of our guys, the way we've stuck together," Tannehill said. "(We've) been through a lot on the field early in the season, we've had to come back and win some games like last Sunday. Then with the whole COVID situation off the field, that was a big distraction. Two games in five days in the past week along with having to shift your bye week and dealing with the whole COVID situation. You were waking up every day not knowing if you had a game or didn't have a game, if you were practicing or if you weren't practicing, who's testing positive, how many guys we have out due to COVID -- it's been a lot. I'm just really proud of our guys the way we stuck together, stayed the course and then kept pressing forward in order to find a way to win and winning those last two games in five days was huge for us."
Despite the fact that Tannehill has taken the Titans to new heights after coming in as a backup last year, you won't see him pounding his chest about all that he's been able to accomplish since the Miami Dolphins traded him away for a couple of draft picks. As far as he's concerned, there's unfinished business he's still working on in Tennessee, but he did admit that the wild ride he has been on over the last year has been a fun one.
"It's been fun," Tannehill responded when asked how the last year has been for him. "When I came here, I didn't know what was going to happen. You know I was coming to be a backup initially -- didn't know if I was going to get an opportunity -- but I felt like I had more to give either to this team or another team. I just tried to stay ready, prepare myself and be ready to step in and take advantage as soon as my number was called."
Interestingly enough, Tannehill says his mindset has been a key for him during this run with the Titans. While many are ready to admit that the Titans have found someone talented to start under center, Tannehill says he's still dedicated to preparing like his job is on the line every single week.
"That's been my mindset, and that hasn't changed," said Tannehill. "I go out there every week and try to prepare in ways like my job is on the line and prepare to play my best football."
Up next for the Titans are the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers, who have a defense Tannehill says he has "a ton of respect for." The Titans will be home underdogs, according to William Hill Sportsbook, but we should know by now you can't count out Tannehill and Co.