Tan­nehill faces tall or­der in play­off de­but

Late-bloomer leads Ti­tans in matchup with Brady, Pa­tri­ots

Orlando Sentinel - - NFL - By Teresa M. Walker

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Ryan Tan­nehill does not hide his emo­tions on the foot­ball field, cel­e­brat­ing big plays with a fist pump or punc­tu­at­ing his own touch­down run by rais­ing the ball up into the air.

He’ll even run down a de­fender af­ter an in­ter­cep­tion and take him down with a per­fect tackle.

Now the No. 8 pick in the 2012 draft has gone from be­ing traded in March to pre­par­ing for his post­sea­son de­but with his sec­ond NFL team, the Ti­tans, af­ter eight sea­sons and 100 games played.

“It’s al­ways some­thing that I wanted to be do­ing my whole ca­reer,” Tan­nehill said.

And his op­po­nent Satur­day night will be none other than the de­fend­ing Su­per Bowl cham­pion Pa­tri­ots (12-4) and Tom Brady, the for­mer sixth-round draft pick with more Su­per Bowl rings than any other sig­nal-caller.

“He’s a guy that’s been do­ing it for a long, long time at a very high level,” Tan­nehill said.

Tan­nehill fi­nally reach­ing the play­offs didn’t seem pos­si­ble in March when the Dol­phins chose to pick up $5 mil­lion of his salary and dump him on the Ti­tans all while eat­ing $18.4 mil­lion of his salary cap hit.

His role with the Ti­tans? A backup only to Mar­cus Mar­i­ota, the Ti­tans’ first-round draft pick in 2015.

Mired in a 2-4 start, the Ti­tans benched Mar­i­ota in mid-Oc­to­ber and turned to the 6-foot-4, 217-pound for­mer wide re­ceiver. He re­sponded, go­ing 7-3 as a starter to help the Ti­tans (9-7) to their sec­ond play­off berth in three sea­sons with the AFC’s sec­ond wild card.

Tan­nehill led the NFL with a ca­reer-best 117.5 passer rat­ing that is the fourth-high­est in a sin­gle sea­son among qual­i­fied passers in league his­tory. He joined Sammy Baugh and Joe Mon­tana as the only quar­ter­backs to com­plete at least 70% of passes and av­er­age at least 9 yards per pass at­tempt.

He’s thrown for 2,742 yards with 22 touch­downs and only six in­ter­cep­tions while run­ning for a ca­reer-high four TDs. He’s a big rea­son why the Ti­tans rank 12th in the NFL in to­tal of­fense and 10th in points per game af­ter be­ing 28th in scor­ing an av­er­age of 16.3 points a game when Tan­nehill be­came the starter.

Raiders coach Jon Gru­den said in early De­cem­ber that great­ness can’t be rushed and the key is how play­ers re­spond to be­ing cut or re­leased or some­one be­ing fired.

“You’ve got to come back,“Gru­den said. “(Rich) Gannon didn’t get here un­til he was 34. I mean, Steve Young didn’t start in the NFL un­til he was 30 . ... There’s been a lot of guys that didn’t ex­plode onto the scene im­me­di­ately.”

Pa­tri­ots coach Bill Belichick said he’s al­ways thought Tan­nehill was a good quar­ter­back who did a good job with the Dol­phins With the Ti­tans, though, Belichick sees Tan­nehill run­ning the of­fense well and mak­ing good de­ci­sions.

“He’s ob­vi­ously ath­letic and got a re­ally good group of re­ceivers,” Belichick said.

Now comes the big­gest test of Tan­nehill’s ca­reer.

He is 4-7 against the Pa­tri­ots and beat them in just his sec­ond sea­son in the NFL in 2013. Af­ter that, the Pa­tri­ots reeled off 21 straight vic­to­ries against first- or sec­ondyear quar­ter­backs un­til the Ravens’ La­mar Jack­son ended that streak Nov. 3.

In Foxbor­ough, Tan­nehill is 0-6 with five TDs and 10 INTs. And Brady re­mains the quar­ter­back on the other side look­ing to win his sev­enth Su­per Bowl. Brady has the most post­sea­son ex­pe­ri­ence in league his­tory with 40 games, and he also holds the marks for most passes thrown and com­pleted, yards and TD passes.

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