It is one of those stats that leaves you scratching your head, wondering if it can really be true.
Since 1990, a total of 258 teams have started their NFL seasons 0-2.
Only 30 of those 258 – a mere 11.6 percent – ended up turning their seasons around and making the playoffs. An even tinier fraction – a mere 5.8 percent – won their division after defeats in their first two games.
So, no matter how often NFL teams love to toss around the “it’s a marathon, not a sprint” phrase, the harsh reality is that if you don’t start out with at least a little bit of a sprint, your marathon is likely doomed to fail.
Don’t believe it? Consider this: In 2020, the NFL expanded to 14 playoff teams, meaning close to half the entire league qualified for the postseason. But even with the bigger opportunity, not one of the 11 teams that started the season 0-2 made the playoffs.
Those were the ugly numbers that crawled into the baggage compartment along with the Titans this weekend, when they flew westward to a site where they’d rarely met with success. Only twice in nine meetings – prior to Sunday’s thrilling 33-30 overtime victory – had the Titans/Oilers ever come away with a win in the Emerald City.
It was hardly a surprise, based on the Titans’ brutally bad season opener – combined with the Seahawks’ Week One win in Indianapolis – that Seattle was close to a touchdown favorite in Sunday’s contest. And yes, that was well before Titans starting left tackle Taylor Lewan suffered a knee injury in pre-game drills, leaving the Titans with a starting tackle tandem of Ty Sambrailo and David Quessenberry.
“Coming to play on the West Coast, a hostile environment, the fans are relentless, for this organization and city,” Titans running back Derrick Henry said. “I don’t think nobody except us expected to come out here and get a `W.’”
The Titans certainly must have felt pretty confident in their own abilities, so self-assured, in fact, that they shrugged off another stinker of a first half, one that saw them head to the locker room trailing 24-9 – after surrendering touchdown drives of 83, 6 and 63 yards on Seattle’s final three possessions.
Thirty minutes to overcome a 15-point, second-half deficit in Seattle, despite the Seahawks – per CBS Sports – having produced a 52-0 mark in all such previous situations.
Thirty minutes, more importantly, to avoid that dreaded 0-2 start, the kind that – surprisingly enough – has doomed the postseason hopes of so many teams over the years.
So what tantrums were thrown, what tables were overturned, what blackboards were smashed in the Titans’ locker room as they contemplated their predicament?
“Nothing major was said,” Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill told media in Seattle. “There was no panic. There was no worry. We knew we were in this game.
“We were getting the ball coming out of half. Offensively, we knew we needed to make plays, go put points on the board.”
Which is exactly what the Titans did, thanks, of course, to … tight end MyCole Pruitt?
Sure enough, Pruitt, who was signed from the Titans’ practice squad last Monday, caught a pair of passes for 21 yards on Tennessee’s critical drive to open the third quarter. His fiery play also goaded Seattle safety Jamal Adams into a pair of penalties, helping the Titans drive 80 yards for a touchdown and deliver a statement that the visitors had not yet packed their bags for the airport.
We could go on for paragraphs about the other offensive heroes. There was wide receiver Julio Jones, who played like the seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Titans fans expected to see, catching six passes for 128 yards. There was Tannehill, who, though hit and harried often, completed 27-of-40 passes for 327 yards. And there was of course running back Derrick Henry, who – after being held to 13 carries for 35 yards – in the first half, exploded for 22 carries for 147 yards and three touchdowns over the remainder of the contest.
“I felt like we were putting drives together, but we just weren’t finishing in the end zone,” Henry said of the team’s sluggish start. “We were taking the three points, stalling. We knew we could move the ball, we just had to finish in the end zone. When we came back out, that was the main focal point.”
But we can’t overlook the Titans’ much-maligned defense, the group that had been steamrolled for much of the first two quarters, surrendering 24 points in the opening 30 minutes – for the second straight week.
It was the defense that held the Seahawks to just six first downs and six points after halftime, the defense that forced Seattle to punt four times during that stretch and gave the Titans’ offense its opportunities. Most importantly, it was the defense that stuffed the Seahawks on their overtime possession, when all Seattle needed was a field goal to win. The Titans forced a pair of Russell Wilson incompletions, followed by an Ola Adeniyi sack on what would be the Seahawks’ final offensive play of the contest.
“A lot of guys are fighters,” cornerback Kristian Fulton, who blanketed DK Metcalf for much of the contest, said. “That’s kind of the thing that coach Vrabel wants to build this team around, guys that are going to fight no matter the situation.
“We don’t care whether we’re up 20 or down 20. We are going to play hard. We want to show our foundation to the world.”
When the Titans’ newest arrival on the ever-revolving kicker carousel – Randy Bullock – drilled the game-winning 36-yard field goal in overtime, the visitors had stunned not only the Seahawks, but a tremendously loud Lumen Field crowd of 68,585.
Would the Titans have been toast had they not won this game, cast aside as just another non-playoff team?
In all honesty, probably not. For starters, they play in the AFC South, which has a combined total of two wins through two weeks. It's a division that – aside from Tannehill – might feature these starting quarterbacks next week: Jacob Eason for Indianapolis, Davis Mills in Houston and rookie Trevor Lawrence in Jacksonville.
In addition, the season is 17 games long this season, which gives those unlucky 0-2 teams (there are currently six of them with another to join the ranks on Monday) an extra game in which to redeem themselves.
That said, the stats are what they are. History tells us that 0-2 is a much deeper hole than what it might appear when it comes to qualifying for the playoffs.
By winning Sunday, the Titans made sure they didn’t tumble too far too fast.