Earlier Than Expected Bye Became a Burden

Titans can't ignore the possibility that fatigue could have been a factor in brief stay in NFL playoffs.
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Fourteen straight.

That’s how many weeks the Tennessee Titans played to close out the 2020 NFL season. And that long run might have been a factor in their brief playoff appearance.

“It really does take a toll,” left guard Rodger Saffold said. “It did play a factor because of the constant week in and week out of playing throughout the season. You start to lose a little steam at the end of the season, which we understand. But that is something we can’t make an excuse for.”

Tennessee played 14 straight games due to a COVID-19 outbreak that forced NFL officials to move its bye from Week 7 to Week 4.

As a result, the Titans became one of 25 teams since 2010 to close the year out with no breaks after their third game. Of those 25, only four made a conference championship. Most ended up with a sub .500 record or miss the playoffs entirely.

“Sometimes it’s the right decisions and the right schedule, sometimes it’s not,” coach Mike Vrabel said.

For the Titans, it was the wrong schedule. After a 5-0 start capped by two wins in five days in the wake of its outbreak, Tennessee was a .500 team the rest of the way. It went 6-5 in the regular season and lost its playoff opener 20-13 to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday.

Players like wide receiver Corey Davis, and tight end Jonnu Smith, struggled to find production late in the season. Davis, over the last two games of the year, recorded five receptions on 13 targets for 39 yards and no touchdowns. Meanwhile, Smith totaled four catches over two games, for 38 yards and one touchdown.

“I don't think that there's anything specific,” Vrabel said. “Sometimes that's how the season goes.”

The Pittsburgh Steelers also had their bye moved to Week 4 (it originally was scheduled for Week 8) due to the Titans’ COVID-19 outbreak. After they started the season with 11 straight victories, the Steelers lost four of their final five and then got blown out 48-37 (they trailed 35-10) by Cleveland in the wild card round. The Browns were without several notable players and coaches, including head coach Kevin Stefanski, due to their own issues with the coronavirus.

For the Titans and their run-heavy attack, running back Derrick Henry had his worst performance of the season in the playoffs. The Steelers, who attempted a league-high 656 passes during the regular season, were doomed when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw four interceptions against Cleveland.

Bye weeks are critical in the NFL for mid-season adjustment and rest for players on the roster. And there looks to be a clear link to a team’s weekend off and its success in the postseason, at least during the current campaign.

Four of the six teams that won on wild card weekend had their bye on Nov. 8 or later. The only winner that had an earlier bye than its opponent was New Orleans, and in that case the difference was one week.

So, the loss to the Ravens was disappointing, but maybe it should have been expected.

“There's just so many differences between this year and every other year,” quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. “We were able to adjust to those, to come together as a team through all of that.

“I’m proud of the way our guys really fought through all the adversity that we faced, the distractions that could have been. We didn't really allow that to have long-standing effects on us. We really fought through that as a team, came together, and bought into what we were doing and persevered.”

As long as they could, at least.