NASHVILLE — The Tennessee Titans now have had 16 regular-season games, the equivalent of a full schedule, with Ryan Tannehill as their starting quarterback over the past year and a half, and their record in those games is 12-4.
Tannehill has thrown 37 touchdown passes with only seven interceptions and has run for five touchdowns in that stretch, and the player who led the NFL in passer rating in 2019 at 117.5 has a league-best 116.5 passer rating for those 16 games. Only the Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson has thrown more touchdowns in that same span, with 39.
Not bad for someone who was discarded and traded away by the Miami Dolphins as a backup in March 2019 before becoming a starter again last fall. Tannehill is making the case to be part of conversations debating the NFL's best current quarterbacks.
"It's been a growing year and a half from being traded here as a backup, starting the season off as a backup, getting opportunity, kind of jumping into that role, trying not to look back in and just growing and learning," Tannehill said this past week.
The Titans rewarded Tannehill for going 7-3 after being moved into the starting lineup in mid-October 2019, signing him to a four-year, $118 million deal this past March. It's a deal that almost looks cheap now with Tennessee off to a 5-1 start, the franchise's best since 2008.
Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin noted last week that what Tannehill is doing in Tennessee is different than what the Dolphins asked.
"Obviously, the presence of (Titans running back Derrick) Henry and his impact on the game and the way it reduces you and limits you, in terms of the variety of things that you can show in an offense, probably changes the nature of his job as well," Tomlin said. "It's just a lot of differences. One's Miami, one's Tennessee."
Tannehill agreed, saying the Titans are a special team with a great organization, good coaches and good players.
"You put all those things together, and it adds up to better results on the field," Tannehill said. "So thankful for the opportunity to be a part of this organization, part of this team. And thankful for the teammates that I have around me that make going out there and playing each and every day a ton of fun, and obviously winning is a lot of fun as well."
After an offseason to hone both chemistry and the offense, Tannehill is tied for sixth in the league with 15 touchdown passes this season, and he's eighth in completion percentage at .685. He ranks fourth with a 112.3 passer rating, trailing only Wilson, the Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers and the Las Vegas Raiders' Derek Carr.
As a result, the Titans rank fourth in scoring average at 31.3 points a game as they prepare to visit the Cincinnati Bengals (1-5-1) on Sunday.
"Some changes we've made have paid off in big ways for us," Tannehill said. "So we're just constantly trying to look to evolve and and keep pressure on the defense. So, you know, personally, it's not really a time to reflect too much. It's time to get ready and and try to go win our game in Cincinnati."
Tannehill won over Titans coach Mike Vrabel and his Tennessee teammates with toughness and decisiveness with the ball. Tannehill also isn't afraid to tell teammates exactly what he's looking for, making communication clear.
With Tannehill as their starter, the Titans rallied to win three times on drives in the final two minutes or overtime last season. He led them to four such comebacks in their first five games this season, and he just missed a fifth last Sunday in a loss to Pittsburgh as the Steelers improved to 6-0 with a 27-24 win in Nashville.
"We've got a lot of confidence in him, a lot of trust," Vrabel said, "and he's one of those guys that continues to improve and try to get better and continue to work within the offense."
Tight end Jonnu Smith, a four-year pro, has a career-high five touchdown catches already after working out with Tannehill in South Florida during the offseason. He sees Tannehill being a man of his word and considers accountability one of the biggest traits he admires about the quarterback.
"When he's wrong, he's accountable about it," Smith said. "He addresses it, and we all learn form it. When we're wrong, he addresses it, and we all learn from it."