Titans’ Ryan Tannehill reaches another level in dream season

BALTIMORE — Ryan Tannehill, who had 22 touchdowns and just six interceptions during the regular season, played well enough this season to convince the Titans to either sign him to a long-term contract or franchise-tag him for the 2020 season.

All he did was save the Titans’ season after Marcus Mariota started 2-4.

All he did at M&T Bank Stadium on Saturday night was outplay Lamar Jackson in a stunning 28-12 upset that gets the sixth-seeded Titans to the AFC Championship against the Texans-Chiefs winner.

Tannehill, who threw just 15 times for 72 yards against the Patriots, was economical again, needing just 14 passes and riding a horse named Derrick Henry (195 yards on 30 carries), who set a belligerent tone stiff-arming Earl Thomas from here to Seattle. Tannehill finished 7-for-14 for 88 yards.

“It’s definitely unusual. … That’s kind of the way the games have played out,” Tannehill said. “At this point in the season it’s about doing whatever it takes to win, whether it’s throwing 30 or throwing 10.”

Ryan Tannehill
Ryan TannehillGetty Images

Tannehill started quickly, and seized a 7-0 lead on a 12-yard circus catch by TE Jonnu Smith against Brandon Carr.

He made it 14-0 with a bulls-eye 45-yard touchdown strike to Kalif Raymond past Marlon Humphrey, this after John Harbaugh gambled and watched the Titans stuff Jackson fourth-and-1 at the Baltimore 45.

“Had great protection, great pocket, I was able to step up,” Tannehill said.

Tannehill’s 1-yard TD run following a Jackson fumble extended the lead to 28-6.

“Teams that can run the football, stop the run and take care of the football will win in the playoffs,” Tannehill said. “We showed we can win multiple ways, but lately it’s been through 22 [Henry].”

Tannehill was 63-for-97 (64.9 percent) with seven touchdowns and two interceptions with a 105.7 passer rating against blitz pressure this season. He ranked third in completion percentage (75.6) and first in passer rating (143.6) on play-action passes, according to Sports Info Solutions.

“I’m going to pat myself on the back here,” NBC Sports NFL analyst Chris Simms said. “Whenever he signed with the Titans, I just said, ‘That’s only a matter of time before he takes over Marcus Mariota’s job.

“Tannehill, first off, was way better than people realize in Miami. That was not a great team around him, but if you look up his stats [123 TDs, 75 INTs], his wins, losses [42-46], all those things are really good, and I’m not always into just those stats.

“But the thing about Tannehill is, yes he’s a good athlete, but he’s been a pinpoint passer, and he maximizes their yards that are there to be had every week. If the guy’s open by a crack, he can fit it through the crack. If the guy’s wide-open down the field, he hits him on the run and he scored a touchdown. And that’s where I look at Tannehill as really special this year. They’re not like dynamic in the pass game. It’s been about him throwing high-level passes into tight spaces and really putting it on the money for guys like A.J. Brown to make something happen after the catch.”

Tannehill was a virtual afterthought during an offseason when the Jaguars were throwing $88 million over four years at Nick Foles and John Elway and the Broncos went wacko for Joe Flacco and the Redskins wooed Case Keenum.

The Titans surrendered a seventh-round pick in 2019 and a fourth-rounder in 2020 and received a 2019 sixth-rounder in return.

Tannehill provided the spark that became a playoff flame, and lo and behold, suddenly it is a raging five-alarm fire.

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