NASHVILLE — Ryan Tannehill has given his team the offensive spark it so desperately needed by both throwing the ball all over the field and using his legs to make plays.
In helping lead the Tennessee Titans' climb back to .500, the 31-year-old quarterback has also provided something more than fleeting hope regarding the playoffs.
"You feel it, man," cornerback Logan Ryan said of what Tannehill has done for the Titans (5-5), who are off this week and return to competition on Nov. 24 by hosting the Jacksonville Jaguars in an AFC South matchup.
"It's a team sport. He's a quarterback, and he's 3-1 since he's been our quarterback. He's scored points for us. Any time you're scoring points, I tell you, we're going to win the game. We're going to find a way to win the game, and he did a great job of bailing us out."
This isn't what the Titans had in mind in March when they made a trade with the Miami Dolphins to get Tannehill, the eighth overall pick in the 2012 draft whose future in South Florida fizzled out after a long run as the starter without ever playing in a postseason game.
Back then, Tennessee was simply looking to upgrade its backup to Marcus Mariota, who hadn't played a full 16-game schedule through his first four NFL seasons because of injury. Tannehill came in on a one-year deal, and the Titans didn't consider him as a starter.
The franchise's plan was to have Tannehill available only if something happened.
"I think that now where he's at starting for us, it's been everything that we'd hoped for having him come in — to be ready to go, to assume that role," coach Mike Vrabel said.
The Titans benched Mariota during a 16-0 loss to the Denver Broncos on Oct. 13 and turned to Tannehill, looking to jump-start an offense that had managed only one touchdown in the previous 10 quarters. After the loss to Denver, Tennessee was 2-4 with its playoff hopes dimming and fans starting to call for Vrabel, in only his second season, and general manager Jon Robinson to be fired.
Tannehill has come through. He has thrown for 1,017 yards with eight touchdowns and only three interceptions despite being sacked 13 times in his four starts for Tennessee. Better yet, the Titans have scored an average of 26.2 points per game since he took over, which is plenty of production when your team's defense ranks No. 9 in the league by giving up only 19.7 points per game.
He posted a 133.9 passer rating in the Titans' 35-32 home win over the Kansas City Chiefs last weekend, the third time since taking over he has rated 109.8 or higher. He also turned in his third game-winning drive in that span and the 16th of his NFL career.
He started the decisive possession against the Chiefs by running for 18 yards, threw a 20-yard pass to Anthony Firkser, then connected with Adam Humphries for a 23-yard touchdown with 23 seconds left. Tannehill followed by running for his first 2-point conversion in the NFL.
Back at the helm of an offense, he is having a good time while working hard.
"I love preparing, just trying to push these guys to get the most out of them," said Tannehill, who is due for free agency in March. "Game days are a lot of fun, especially when you win. I'm having a lot of fun right now. We've just got to keep grinding, keep putting the work in and getting ourselves ready to play every Sunday."
As the Titans aim to return to the playoffs after a one-year absence, they face one of the tougher home stretches in the league. Their final six games are against opponents currently with winning records, and four of them are against division foes, including two against the first-place Houston Texans.
Their quarterback has given them hope, though.
"Tannehill's done an amazing job," left tackle Taylor Lewan said. "I mean, he sits in the pocket, man. He moves around that pocket really well. He fires some rockets. And I think there's a confidence about him that is really good."