Ryan Tannehill continues his crazy star turn as Titans move to 4-0 with win over Bills

Frank Schwab
·4 min read

The NFL has no patience with quarterbacks anymore. Not that the league ever waited that long, but it moves at warp speed now.

The Washington Football Team has given up on Dwayne Haskins Jr. a month into his second year after he was selected 15th overall in the draft. Everyone seems to be convinced fellow 2019 first-round pick New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones can’t play. Mitchell Trubisky is being cast aside before his rookie deal is done, and Sam Darnold might join him.

That is part of what makes Ryan Tannehill’s story so curious. Two years ago, the Miami Dolphins took on an $18.4 million dead salary-cap hit just to dump Tannehill. They traded Tannehill and a sixth-round draft pick to the Tennessee Titans for fourth- and seventh-round selections. Tannehill was 31 years old, had been in the league seven years and never did much with the Dolphins. The former first-round pick was heading into the journeyman backup phase of his career.

Then, Tannehill became one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks with the Titans. That’s not supposed to happen in this era, but Tannehill continues to do it.

Tannehill was excellent again as the Titans moved to 4-0 with a 42-16 win over the previously undefeated Buffalo Bills in a game rescheduled to Tuesday after Tennessee had a COVID-19 outbreak.

At some point, we’re going to have to accept that Tannehill seems to have completely changed his career arc in his 30s.

Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) celebrates after scoring a touchdown on a 10-yard run. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)
Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) celebrates after scoring a touchdown on a 10-yard run. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

Ryan Tannehill has another good outing

Everyone figured Tannehill was in for regression after a fantastic 2019 season. Some of that was fairly based in statistics, but let’s also be honest: It seemed safe to bet on Tannehill turning into a pumpkin. His Dolphins career had a few highlights, but not many and certainly not enough to believe in a late-career surge. When Tannehill got a four-year, $118 million contract this past offseason, it wasn’t hard to find critics of the deal.

Tannehill took over for Marcus Mariota last season and never looked back. Tannehill posted the fourth-best single-season passer rating in NFL history last year, at 117.5. The Titans went 7-3 in his starts and made it to an AFC championship game. Now, the Titans are 11-3 in his starts (13-4 if we count the playoffs), and Tannehill is practically replicating his 2019. Over those 14 starts, Tannehill has 31 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Tannehill has multiple touchdown passes in 10 of his past 11 games.

The Bills are a good team with a well-coached defense, and Tannehill picked Buffalo apart. He started hot with a nice touchdown pass to A.J. Brown to put the Titans ahead 7-0. Tannehill completed 21 of 28 passes for 195 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a tidy 129.3 passer rating. About the only flaw for Tannehill was his awkward LaDainian Tomlinson/Michael Jordan jumpman celebration on a touchdown run late in the first half, when he came down awkwardly and fell over in the end zone.

Tannehill is not the first quarterback who took a long time to find the right fit and had his career blossom long after everyone had given up. Jim Plunkett, Steve Young and Rich Gannon are prominent on that list. Tannehill escaped from Adam Gase and the Dolphins, and he has been a different player since. There’s no good reason to believe it can’t continue, either.

Titans impressive in win over Bills

The Titans didn’t get the best headlines for a couple weeks. They had a COVID-19 outbreak. They held informal workouts after the NFL told them not to gather. Their Week 4 game was pushed back to later this season, and this past weekend’s game was moved to Tuesday.

The Titans don’t seem to care, and you can shut up a lot of critics by winning. Each of Tennessee’s first three wins came on a late field goal, so there was skepticism over how good they were. Beating the Bills, especially with the ease in which it was done after such a long layoff, was impressive.

Malcolm Butler picked off Josh Allen early, and another Butler interception and long return in the third quarter set up another Tannehill touchdown toss and a 28-10 lead. Allen had looked like a candidate to be the runner-up to Russell Wilson in the NFL MVP race. Maybe it’s Tannehill who instead needs to be in that conversation.

The Titans seem playoff-worthy again. To make any noise in the postseason, you usually need strong quarterback play. As unlikely as the story is, the Titans seem to have that box checked.

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