Can I have a mulligan?
Weeks ago, I trashed Tennessee, writing, “Nine weeks is more than enough time to come to a definitive conclusion: Regardless of who plays quarterback, the Titans aren’t very good.”
Three weeks and two games later, I look foolish. Since a Week 9 loss to the Panthers, Tennessee has won two straight, shocking Kansas City and overwhelming Jacksonville with 28 points in the first nine minutes of the second half.
Not only are the Titans (6-5) good, they have a big advantage over the rest of the AFC teams in the wild-card hunt: quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who became starter in Week 7. He’s playing better than every QB in the conference not named Lamar Jackson.
Outside of the Carolina loss, in which he threw two interceptions and posted an 82.3 passer rating, Tannehill has been spectacular. He has nine touchdowns and one interception in his other four starts; his average passer rating in those games is 129.9. (League average passer rating overall is 91.0)
This isn’t a case of skill players playing out of their minds to aid a new starter. Per Pro Football Reference, Tannehill’s on-target throw percentage is 81.3, fourth best in the league. His bad-throw percentage is 11.3, lowest of all qualifying quarterbacks.
Former Titans starter Marcus Mariota, whom head coach Mike Vrabel stayed with way too long, struggled mightily in both of those categories. His 20.9 bad-throw percentage is tied for worst in the league with Mason Rudolph, benched this week by the Steelers; Mariota’s on-target throw percentage is 71.6, 27th in the NFL.
Tannehill has transformed the offense since his insertion into the starting lineup. In Mariota’s six starts, Tennessee averaged 16.3 points. With Tannehill under center, that figure is 29.4. The Titans failed to generate 400 yards in any of Mariota’s starts, but have done so three times with Tannehill.