Ryan Tannehill’s resurgence could lift Titans in AFC South

Tennessee Titans

Since taking over at starting quarterback, the Tennessee Titans have taken off with Ryan Tannehill under center. He is the key to them winning the division.

When Ryan Tannehill left the Miami Dolphins for the Tennessee Titans this past offseason, we thought that the Titans would be getting a top-tier backup quarterback and a guy who might challenge Marcus Mariota at some point in the 2019 NFL season. Tannehill had been good, but never great in Miami. Now in year eight out of Texas A&M, we are seeing the very best out of him.

Tannehill replaced an ineffective Mariota midway through the Titans’ Week 6 road loss at the Denver Broncos. He might have only completed 13-of-16 passes for 144 yards and an interception in the Titans’ shutout road loss. However, it was enough of a boost offensively for him to be handed the starting job the rest of the way. He isn’t just running away with it, he’s been fantastic.

In Tannehill’s five starts this season, the Titans are 4-1 with wins over the Kansas City Chiefs and the division rival Jacksonville Jaguars in the last three weeks. Tannehill is putting up some career-best numbers, such as his 72.1 completion percentage and 9.2 yards per passing attempt. He was a career 62.8 percent passer who averaged 7.0 yards per attempt in seven seasons with Miami.

While he was with the Dolphins, Tannehill was never anything more than just good. He started 88 games over eight seasons but was four games under .500 in Miami. At 31 years old, Tannehill seemed destined to be a clipboard holder for the last half-decade or so of his NFL career. The former No. 8 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft had yet to live up to his lofty draft status.

Now, Tannehill has his Titans on the precipice of winning their first division title since 2008. Should Tennessee finally beat the Indianapolis Colts to split the season series, the Titans would improve to 7-5 with two more AFC South games against the Houston Texans, the perceived frontrunner in the division entering Week 13. If Tennessee wins four of its next five games, 10-6 might win it.

Sure, there are other reasons for the Titans’ success in recent weeks. They seem to be well-coached, as this team has bought into the defensive-minded Mike Vrabel. His side of the ball has been solid since he arrived in Nashville two years ago. The ground game has really taken off, thanks to another excellent season out of running back Derrick Henry. But then, there’s Tannehill.

When the Dolphins drafted him, this was the type of player they were hoping to get. Yes, taking him eighth was a bit of a reach, as he was only converted from wide receiver to quarterback shortly before he left College Station. But his ability to make plays with his legs, make the right throw and extend plays out of the pocket, that makes him special.


 


And this has been a special season for the Titans. The long bland team now has added some much-needed spice to it, coming from an unlikely source. Once it became clear that Mariota was never going to be anything more than a mediocre signal-caller in Nashville, Vrabel made the right decision to go with Tannehill. It not only saved his job but revitalized Tannehill’s playing career.

No, this doesn’t seem to be a flash in the pan for the former Aggie receiver. His consistency with which he played with down in Miami has been elevated to near Pro Bowl heights for the first time in his NFL career. Tannehill has played so well for the last seven weeks that the Titans probably don’t need to think about drafting a franchise quarterback this spring, they just found one.

Sure, parting ways with Mariota five years after taking the Heisman Trophy winner No. 2 overall out of Oregon will sting in some ways, but Tennessee has a shot at getting another five really good years out of their newfound starting quarterback. With him playing like this, Tannehill will continue to give the Titans a fighting chance in the AFC South for years, as long as this is his new normal.

There have been a lot of great stories in the NFL this season. Minshew Mania was cool while it lasted down in Jacksonville. The Raiders not being a complete train wreck has been a pleasant surprise. But seeing Tannehill play the best football of his career after being relegated to a mediocre starter’s backup, we couldn’t have imagined this. He makes the Titans exciting to watch.

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