NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The look on the faces of quarterback Ryan Tannehill and other Tennessee Titans players said it all as they walked off the field after a crushing home loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in the divisional round of the playoffs last season.
Having finished the regular season with the top seed in the AFC and earning a first-round bye, the Titans had a golden opportunity to do something special, but it was swept from under their feet.
With three interceptions in the 19-16 loss, Tannehill bore the bulk of the criticism. He called the loss “brutal,” saying it would take a long time to get over it.
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“It’s a deep scar,” Tannehill said of the loss. “Every time I closed my eyes I kind of rewatched the game. I didn’t get a whole lot of sleep for weeks. I was in a dark place, and it took me a while, a lot of work to get out of it .”
Tannehill revealed that he went to therapy in the offseason to help him escape the dark place.
“Mental recovery is a big thing for all of us,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. “Our ability to handle things positively and unfortunately negatively that have happened to us. Try to keep things in perspective and make sure we understand where we are right now.”
The bounce back from such a devastating end to last season was compounded by a draft day trade in which the Titans jettisoned Tannehill’s favorite pass catcher (and Tennessee’s leading pass catcher since he came into the league in 2019) when AJ Brown was dealt to the Philadelphia Eagles for the 18th and 101st overall picks.
Tannehill vowed to approach the season with a passion for winning unlike any time before. There haven’t been drastic changes in his leadership style or preparation. Remaining consistent with what he’s done before has benefited both Tannehill and his teammates, according to Titans quarterbacks coach Pat O’Hara.
“As a quarterback, a leader, you gotta be the same guy every day,” O’Hara said. “That way people know what to expect. That’s the one thing that pops out with Ryan. He’s been really consistent with his demeanor and practice habits, the way he prepares.”
Tannehill and the Titans (7-3) are trying to run it back, with the Bengals (6-4) up next Sunday (1 pm ET, CBS) in Nashville at Nissan Stadium.
Getting another crack at the Bengals, albeit with less at stake this time around, would seem like a redemption opportunity to Tannehill. However, he’s not going that route.
“That was last year, and half this team wasn’t even here,” Tannehill said about the matchup. “This is a new team facing another new team. Obviously, it’s a game that we want to win. But it has nothing to do with last year.”
Tannehill is right. The Titans only returned 29 players from last season.
But through eight games this season — he missed two games with an ankle injury — Tannehill has shown shades of his old self. Tannehill has thrown four interceptions (1.9% of his passes), which resembles the 2019 and 2020 seasons when he only threw six (2.1% of his passes) and seven (1.5% of his passes) respectively.
Tannehill’s 14 interceptions (2.6% of his passes) last season surpassed his previous two-year total with the Titans.
The timing for a rematch against Cincinnati is ideal for the Titans because Tannehill is coming off his best passing game this season.
Tannehill threw for 333 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s 27-17 win over the Green Bay Packers. It was his most passing yards in a game since Week 2 of last season when he threw for 347 yards against the Seattle Seahawks.
Rookie receiver Treylon Burks came alive in the Packers game, posting seven receptions for 111 yards. Burks went through his share of trials and tribulations during minicamp when he faced questions about his conditioning and asthma which kept him from participating.
Through it all, Tannehill was a steadying force for Burks and showed confidence in the rookie from the start.
“He has been really encouraging,” Burks said. “He’s always making sure that I’m in the right spots. He just has always had confidence in me.”
Burks obviously didn’t play in last season’s postseason game, but his presence the last two games after missing the previous four with a turf toe injury may have sparked two of Tannehill’s best two performances of the season.
That’s the confidence they hope to build on against the Bengals, whether it’s a redemption game or not.