The Titans continue to deserve our appreciation
The Titans effectively won the AFC South on Sunday with a 34-31 overtime win over the expanding Colts. They’ve now opened a three-game barrier between themselves and second place, in addition to winning a head-to-head tiebreaker against Indianapolis, heading for one of the NFL’s most generous end-of-season schedules. Barring a massive fall, they will win the division for the second year in a row and advance to the playoffs for the third season in a row.
And while that might not seem like an incredible feat in 2021, given that they sit atop the sweetest division in the NFL with a pair of self-defeating franchises circling the drain beneath them, it’s amazing when you consider. the road they traveled to get there.
Derrick Henry was just 68 yards on Sunday, which is a relatively pedestrian number for the back, which helps amplify the point: there may not be many teams in the NFL built as well as the Titans, or in a more unique way. On Sunday alone, they won thanks to two interceptions, one for a touchdown and one that occurred deep in opposing territory near the end of extra time.
Their rise from a mid-definition club to a dominant pillar of the AFC gives hope to any drifting franchise that starts over without any of the traditional pillars of a championship contender. Their quarterback was a flamboyant first-round pick, brought in initially to support their own flamboyant first-round pick. Their offense is largely generated by, but not exclusively, a downhill running game featuring a fullback who has only missed two games since 2016 despite each defender having the hardest blow in an attempt to knock him down. . Their best receiver was supposed to be a concession prize at the end of a receiver-rich first round. Only one of their starting offensive linemen has been drafted by the current GM. Their top defensive player is a third-round player from Middle Tennessee State. (Answer: Ryan Tannehill, Marcus Mariota, Henry, AJ Brown, Nate Davis, Kevin Byard.)
We can create any narrative we want about the mystical energy evoked by their head coach and his touchdown behavior, or, again, we can fall back on the fact that they are gifted two games each year against the Jaguars and Texans, which looks a bit like Alabama. program an additional opponent with TO added at the end of his name. But the truth is, the Titans are kind of a perpetual beautiful work in progress. Their build at this point has been scattered over the traditional NFL standard, which requires you pick a rookie quarterback, prep him quickly, fill out the roster while he’s still on a rookie contract, and pay the big one. awards for elite talent who can make a difference. around him.
In Tennessee, no player takes more than 7% of the salary cap. No single player base salary exceeds $ 11 million. Highly drafted players are somewhat systematically sidelined and not subjected to the kind of political pampering other GMs embrace in order to solidify their legacy as talent seekers.
In many ways, they sampled some of the best ideas in recent history without going down a singular path. They look a bit like the Seahawks’ top teams, but without the developed, local quarterback. They have a retro Patriots flavor, but without the fundamental appeal of the greatest head coach in NFL history.
And right now, they’re winners of four games in a row. If it hadn’t been for one of the most puzzling hiccups of the season – an overtime loss to the Jets – they wouldn’t have lost a game since Week 1 to the Cardinals, arguably the better team. coming up this week.
The best part about it, of course, is that it challenges other average franchises to improve their game. The Titans didn’t see their (relative) strengths at the start of this rebuild as a box of duct tape. , paper clips and other scattered trash. They clearly saw something we haven’t all seen and trusted a talented set of coaches to put it in motion.
They are more than Henri. They are more than Brown and more than Tannehill. They’re, for now, a conundrum for the rest of the NFL to try to stop and a poster for how to put a bunch of seemingly disjointed parts together.
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