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FILE - Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill calls a play as wide receiver A.J. Brown (11) is set in motion during the first half of an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers on Thursday, Dec. 23, 2021, in Nashville, Tenn. Tannehill is expected to talk with the media for the first time on Tuesday, May 3, 2022, since Tennessee's divisional playoff loss in January and for the first time since the Titans traded away his top receiver A.J. Brown and replaced him with Arkansas receiver Treylon Burks in the NFL draft. (AP Photo/Wade Payne, File)

Ryan Tannehill's words regarding the Tennessee Titans' season-ending playoff loss to Cincinnati were something every serious sports fan can identify with.

"A deep scar," the veteran quarterback told the media on Tuesday of that 19-16 home loss at Nissan Stadium.

He also said he was in "a dark place."

And, "I didn't get a whole lot of sleep for weeks."

There are no doubt a few Titans fans who felt the same way. Having gained home field for the playoffs despite having to endure more than 80 roster changes due to COVID-19 protocols and numerous injuries, it seemed as if the many-hues-of-blue crew was in position to return to the Super Bowl for the first time since the end of the 1999 season.

Especially when it became known that running back Derrick Henry — arguably the best rusher in the entire NFL — would be available after sitting out much of the back half of the regular season with a broken foot.

But then the Bengals got hot at the right time, Tannehill threw an uncharacteristic three interceptions — including one in the final two minutes of a tie game that led Fort Payne, Ala., native Evan McPherson to boot the game-winning field goal for the visitors.

"Every time I closed my eyes I kind of rewatched that game," Tannehill said. "I've worked through it, but therapy, talking to people, time helped. It took a lot of work to get through it."

If anything good has happened to sports over the last couple of years, it's the growing understanding that we're all dealing with something — family issues, job issues, personal issues — at any given time that may need a therapist, a psychologist, even a psychiatrist to resolve.

Doesn't make us weak. Doesn't make us unreliable under pressure. Doesn't mean anything is seriously wrong with us. It just means almost everybody these days needs a little help now and then, and lots of understanding and compassion to get through life's unexpected rough spots.

We've already seen it on the world sports stage the past couple of years with women's tennis star Naomi Osaka and United States gymnast extraordinaire Simone Biles.

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley cited mental health reasons on October 31 of last year for why he was stepping away from football. Later found to have gambled on football during his time off, the NFL suspended him for the entirety of the 2022 season.

But while athletes openly admitting to struggling with mental and emotional health is a welcome reprieve from the kind of macho posturing and denial we have for far too long embraced, if not outright celebrated in our sports heroes, it's not that the other side of pro sports hasn't been there in plain sight.

Merely acquaint yourself, or re-acquaint yourself, with the the 1957 film "Fear Strikes Out," which is the story of Jimmy Piersall, who played 17 seasons in the major leagues, but was sent to a mental institution after his first major league at-bat for attempting to run into the stands to visit his father, who had driven him to the brink as a child in hopes of making him a big-league player.

So athletes struggling in the limelight is nothing new. However, athletes willing to talk about it is new, at least in a way that sheds a positive light on admitting we all struggle in ways big and small from time to time, and a little outside help can do a world of good.

What may be more troubling for Tannehill is the Titans' decision to draft former Liberty quarterback Malik Willis in the third round, as if to tell Tannehill he's on the clock. And before anyone says any quarterback would be on the clock after throwing three interceptions in a playoff game, the only reason the Titans were the No. 1 seed was a ridiculously athletic play Tannehill made to keep a drive alive late in the team's final game at Houston. Is Tannehill the second coming of Tom Brady or Peyton Manning? No. But the Titans have been a whole lot better with him than they ever were with Marcus Mariota at QB.

Not that Tannehill helped himself with his "not my job to mentor" quote concerning Willis. As ESPN pro football analyst Ryan Clark tweeted upon hearing Tannehill's statement on Willis: "I see Ryan Tannehill is on his "Not my job to mentor" energy. It's not, but man it makes you a good teammate. You can win without your QB being a good teammate but better for the team if he is."

Clark is no doubt right. But the Titans were also wrong not to inform Tannehill that they were going to draft Willis. What they were more wrong to do however was to trade their best receiver, AJ Brown, who had become Tannehill's most reliable target.

"I was shocked," the quarterback said. "When I first found out, I'm like, 'This isn't real, this isn't happening. And then, I talked to A.J. and found out it was real. I slept terrible that night and kept thinking it was just a bad dream, but that's where we're at."

Because of that, it sounds like the bad dream for Titans fans may be just beginning. Let's just hope if it turns out to be as disappointing a season as some fear, they can at least appreciate that Tannehill wants to win as badly as they do, and isn't afraid to seek help from others when those losses send him to a dark place.

Over time, he may even be willing to counsel Willis on how he can avoid such deep scars and sleepless nights. It may not be mentoring, but it would definitely make Tannehill a better teammate than he appears to be at the moment.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

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