The Titans losing in the first round of the playoffs despite having the #1 seed is a tale as old as time because the Titans have never had the 1 seed and then gone on to win. An embarrassing performance by Ryan Tannehill wasted a historic defensive performance. The finality of the end of a football season is always harsh, but given expectations, this was worse than most.
The Window: The Titans Super Bowl window was this year and maybe next year. The defense was unbelievable and offensively you had pieces to score. The one and done appearance means that we may never be able to watch Derrick Henry in a Super Bowl. That would be a tough pill to swallow as a fan, and just in general as someone who appreciates his game. It’s also extremely hard to win a Super Bowl without having a franchise QB and on Saturday afternoon and evening, I think the Titans might have gotten the answer that they are ill-equipped to accept on that front.
Fan emotions: Nissan Stadium was rocking from the get go. They were ready to witness a Titans win and the Titans let them down yet again. It was loud, and the crowd noise was affecting the Bengals offense big time. Yet as we’ve seen time after time, when the most is expected from this team, they never cease to drop the ball. This is exactly why this team is disrespected nationally, by the way. It’s because of the team’s inability to succeed when the pressure is on. This week, they left everyone wanting despite having the pieces to dominate.
Special Teams: Every week we hear “fire Todd Downing” to the point where I believe I’m living in a simulation and there’s a glitch that no matter the problem, the answer is “fire Todd Downing”. What I’ve seen with my own eyes is another consistently underperforming unit. Special Teams. If you want to fire a coordinator, why wouldn’t it be Craig Aukerman? The kick return unit botched several returns, and none of the returners understand what a fair catch is. Chester Rogers plays with fire on a regular basis and it’s to the point where I can’t just blame him because the staff is allowing him to continue to field punts. I would not be unhappy if they made a change at ST coordinator, as I think you can probably find someone else to do the job better. I feel the same way at OC, but that’s a conversation for another time.
The Plan: This past offseason the Titans spent a lot of time and resources sacrificing the elite offense they had for defensive help. Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith were gone, and the lone outside replacement was Julio Jones. On paper? It’s an ok trade off. In reality? They desperately missed the presence of Jonnu Smith. The drop off from Arthur Smith to Todd Downing was expected, but they didn’t do enough to mitigate that loss with better personnel. Due to the injuries the team sustained throughout the year, it wasn’t hard to see that the group that has the highest indicator on playoff success was going to be worse.
So, for the second postseason in a row, a player that’s ok in a niche spot, but not a great pass catcher (NWI/Kalif Raymond) gets targeted on the final pass attempt of the year and it turns into a pick. This offseason, which is sure to be a long one, needs to see the Titans add at least one more pass catcher, whether it’s a high draft pick at TE or at WR.
Ryan Tannehill: The most important position in sports is quarterback. No player has more of an influence on how their team performs than the signal caller on offense. For the Titans, Ryan Tannehill has been a very good regular season QB. He’s led them to back-to-back division championships, he’s been hyper efficient, and he’s been a great leader in the locker room and in the community.
On Saturday, Ryan Tannehill turned in the worst performance of his career. Erratic throws, bad decisions, poor reads on options, missed receivers, this performance was notable for all the wrong reasons. Does that take away how good he’s been for the Titans during his tenure? Absolutely not, but I do think we learned a very important truth about the ceiling for the Titans with Tannehill at QB: He would have to rewrite his entire playoff resume to lead this team to a Super Bowl championship.
Is that harsh? Maybe, but after last night, I don’t think he’s capable of leading the team to the promised land. His past playoff games tell me the same. You can win with him, but everything has to go right, because he needs to be a passenger in the playoffs.
So where do the Titans go from here? Likely nowhere. As constructed, this team is good enough to win the AFC South again next year. They are good enough to be a top 2 seed once again and they are good enough to win a couple playoff games.
Due to Tannehill’s contract, it’s very unlikely they cut him. Even less likely when you factor in that there are only 3 guys that are potentially available that would be upgrades. The draft class this year stinks at QB, so don’t even think about drafting a guy for the future this offseason. That leaves us with the trade candidates. Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, and Deshaun Watson are all rumored to be on the move. Watson’s legal troubles and his presence on a rival roster likely remove him from the conversation.
So, you have Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson. Rodgers has gone on record saying he wants more input in how the team operates, who they keep, who they don’t. To me, that doesn’t line up with the “team first” attitude that Jon Robinson and Mike Vrabel have instilled. So that leave Mr. Unlimited. Would I love for the Titans to try and acquire the Seahawks’ QB? Absolutely. Will they? Probably not.
Vrabel has often professed his confidence in Tannehill, with good reason, during the regular season. Does this game change anything? Time will tell, but I highly doubt it. My belief is that until a franchise QB is found, this team doesn’t have a chance at winning rings, but it’s very hard to find someone that’s better at the moment. I’m interested to see how this plays out over the offseason and if there are rumblings about a trade with Seattle, but for now, I think they hold tight.
The defense: On a day where the offense was mostly miserable, the defense was incredible. 9 sacks, 13 hurries, and only 19 points allowed. Only one other time in NFL history has a defense had 9 sacks and less than 20 points allowed and lost. If you had told me prior to the game, the final stats for the defense, I would have said the Titans probably won by 20. Instead they lost by 3 in excruciating fashion. I’m hoping that they are able to keep Harold Landry this offseason and keep this unit intact. It’s hard to repeat defensive performances year over year, but the front four is special. What could have been if the offense hadn’t laid an egg.