Tannehill faces tall order in playoff debut
Late-bloomer leads Titans in matchup with Brady, Patriots
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.