Things can change – and often do – from week to week in the NFL.
What we saw of the Tennessee Titans in their 31-30 victory at Minnesota on Sunday, however, will remain true until they show us something different.
With that in mind, here are some truths about the Titans as we know them three weeks into the 2020 NFL season
Signing Stephen Gostkowski is the best move Jon Robinson has made to date. The Titans invested many dollars in Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry and still had their eyes on Jadeveon Clowney, so it might have made sense to try to save money on a kicker. Instead, they signed veteran Stephen Gostkowski to a one-year, $2.75 million pact right at the end of the preseason.
After a rough start, Gostkowski has made 10 field goals, which is one more than four Tennessee kickers made all last season (playoffs included), and four of them are from 50 yards or more. Only once, has the 36-year-old made more than four from 50-plus in a single season, and that was 2013, which is also the only other time he made three game-winning kicks in a single year (they were not in consecutive weeks).
After last year’s playoff run, it would have been easy to believe that the Titans would win a number of games comfortably this season. As it turns out, they might not have won at all to this point without Gostkowski.
Adoreé Jackson means more to the defense than most of us probably realized. The fourth-year cornerback is not what anyone would consider a shut-down pass defender. However, when he was placed on injured reserve prior to the opener against Denver, it created a ripple effect in the secondary that has caused veteran Johnathan Joseph and rookies Kristian Fulton and Chris Jackson to play bigger and different roles than anticipated (Jackson missed the Vikings game with an injury of his own).
Minnesota rookie Justin Jefferson took advantage with 175 yards on seven receptions. His 71-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter (he beat Joseph on the play) was the longest pass play allowed by the Titans since Oct. 21, 2018 against the Chargers in London. In all Jefferson had three catches of more than 30 yards.
A healthy Jackson is fast enough and physical enough that he likely would have been a better matchup while Malcolm Butler, on the other side, went one-on-one with the smaller, shifty Adam Thielen.
Derrick Henry is earning every bit of that big contract. The NFL’s 2019 rushing champion has topped 100 yards rushing in consecutive games, and he is off to the best start of his career with 319 yards through three games.
However, he has needed 82 carries to get those yards (Henry had 110 carries his entire rookie season). That is an average of 3.9 per attempt. He had a 16-yard gain against the Vikings, which is his longest of the season to date, and it was his fifth of the season for more than 10 yards. Last season, Henry averaged 5.1 yards per carry and had at least one carry or more than 16 yards in 10 of the 15 games he played.
The four-year, $50 million contract extension he signed in the offseason made it perfectly clear how valuable he is to Tennessee’s offense – and opponents are determined not to give him free yards this year.
Ryan Tannehill can be ordinary after all: The Titans’ quarterback started the day with a franchise-record streak of nine straight regular-season games with two or more touchdown passes.
Against the Vikings, he did not throw any. That is the first time as Tennessee’s starter that he did not have at least one touchdown pass. His 62.2 completion percentage (23-for-37) was his second lowest in a regular-season game and his 78.8 passer rating was his lowest since he replaced Marcus Mariota.
The good news for the Titans is that they can find ways to win if he is not at his best.
The blitz package remains a problem for opposing offenses. The Titans don’t have a lot of sacks through the first three weeks of the season – four of them, to be exact. But half of those have come from defensive backs.
Fulton, the second-round pick out of LSU, became the second member of the secondary to get one when he dropped Kirk Cousins for a loss of seven yards on Minnesota’s next-to-last offensive possession. Safety Kenny Vaccaro got one last week against Jacksonville.
Cornerback Logan Ryan, now with the New York Giants, was particularly effective at getting to the quarterback in recent years. Even without him, the Titans still have guys who can get there.
Start making plans for the playoffs. No, it is not guaranteed, but from 1980 through 2019 there have been 187 teams that started 3-0, and 141 of those (75.4 percent) made the playoffs. Last year, seven teams won at least their first three and five of them, including eventual champion Kansas City, made it to the postseason.
Since the start of the Titans era (1999), this is just the third time Tennessee has won three in a row at the start. The last time was 2008, when it finished with the NFL’s best record (13-3). The other time was 1999, when it went 13-3 and eventually made it to the Super Bowl.