Tannehill Starts Fast as Titans' Starter

David Boclair

NASHVILLE – Ryan Tannehill already is a rarity among Tennessee Titans quarterbacks.

When he led a come-from-behind victory against Kansas City on Nov. 10, he became just the fourth quarterback during the Titans era (1999-present) to win three of his first four starts for the franchise. That group includes 16 players in all, 12 who started at least four games.

Sunday, the 31-year-old will have the opportunity to join an even more select group. If Tannehill leads Tennessee (5-5) to a victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars (4-6), he will join Neil O’Donnell as the only ones with wins in four of their first five starts. O’Donnell went 4-1 (he won his first three) in 1999 while Steve McNair was sidelined following back surgery and his tenure helped propel the Titans to a 13-3 regular season record and their only appearance in a Super Bowl.

Tannehill’s time, which was the result of Marcus Mariota’s uneven and too-often-unproductive play, has few – if any – talking about Tennessee as a title contender. With six weeks to go in the regular season, however, this team is now one game out of first place in the AFC South and the playoff possibilities seem more promising than at any other time in 2019.

“It’s been fun,” Tannehill said. “I love playing football. I love going out and competing. I love practicing with the guys. I love the whole thing, everything it brings to the table. I’m having a lot of fun. I love preparing, just trying to push these guys to get the most out of them.

“Game days are a lot of fun, especially when you win. I’m having a lot of fun right now.”

In addition to O’Donnell, McNair (1995-96) and Matt Hasselbeck (2011) are the only others to start 3-1. Hasselbeck was the only one who did so when he opened the season as a starter. McNair did it in spot duty during his first two professional seasons and became the full-time starter the next year. Both lost their fifth starts.

A rundown of Tennessee Titans starting quarterbacks' (1999-present) records through their first four starts for the franchise:

Player
Season(s)
Record

Steve McNair

1995-96

3-1

Neil O'Donnell

1999

3-1

Matt Hasselbeck

2011

3-1

Ryan Tannehill

2019

3-1

Billy Volek

2003-04

2-2

Vince Young

2006

2-2

Kerry Collins

2006-07

1-3

Jake Locker

2012

1-3

Ryan Fitzpatrick

2013

1-3

Charlie Whitehurst

2014

1-3

Marcus Mariota

2015

1-3

Zach Mettenberger

2014

0-4

Others: Blaine Gabbert 2-1, Matt Cassel 1-1, Matt Mauck 0-1, Rusty Smith 0-1

The trick will be to keep the good times rolling.

In the six seasons Tannehill played for the Miami Dolphins (he missed one full campaign with a knee injury), he started with three wins in his first four games just twice. In neither case did he finish with a winning record. In 2013, he and the Dolphins won their first three, lost the next four and five of the next six en route to an 8-8 finish. Last season, he won three, lost three, won two and lost three more to end up 5-6 in a season interrupted by another injury (shoulder).

“It’s a unique situation,” coach Mike Vrabel said. “… It’s a fine line. I think that there were things that he probably wanted to say or do as the backup that he had normally done as a starter. He respected the situation and he probably didn’t [say or do those things].

“I think that now where he’s at starting for us, it’s been everything that we’d hoped for having him come in – to be ready to go, to assume that role.”

The role is nothing new for him. He was the starter in all 88 games he played for Miami, the team that drafted him eighth overall in 2012 out of Texas A&M.

An extended roll of wins would be. With the Dolphins, he put together more than just three consecutive victories just twice, a six-game run in 2016 and a four-game streak that started with the final game of 2016 and did not continue until the first week of 2018, after his return from the knee injury that sidelined him for all of 2017.

“I just want to attack every week with energy and passion and bring that to the guys in the offense,” Tannehill said. “Hopefully (the offense) feeds off of it and we can be contagious with that and just grow as a unit.”

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