NASHVILLE – Punch back. Bounce back. Answer back.
Those are the rallying cries of 16 NFL teams that lost their opening games last week, especially the ones that got thumped, as was the case for the Tennessee Titans in their 38-13 whipping by Arizona.
But do all the Week 1 losers really believe they can get back on their feet again? Or are some just talking the talk, saying the things they’re supposed to say?
Here’s one reason the Titans can feel confident: a proven track record when following up ugly losses with winning performances. That should help settle their nerves headed into Sunday, despite the fact that Tennessee is a 5.5-point underdog at Seattle, which is 17-7 at home over the past three seasons.
More specifically, three of the lynchpins – coach Mike Vrabel, quarterback Ryan Tannehill and running back Derrick Henry – in particular have shown an impressive ability to rebound from losses and sub-par performances over the past three seasons.
Here’s a closer look at each case:
The bounce-back stat: The Titans are 6-0 following double-digit losses over the past two seasons.
Overall, they have been one of the NFL’s better teams over the past two seasons, earning two playoff berths – and two playoff victories – while compiling a regular-season record of 20-12.
But Vrabel’s club has taken it on the chin from time to time as well during that span. Who can forget the snowy 40-14 disaster in Green Bay last season, for instance, or the ugly 16-0 loss in Denver two seasons ago when Marcus Mariota lost his job?
All six times they lost by 10 points or more, the Titans responded in the best way possible, bouncing back with victories. Among those follow-up performances: a 35-32 thriller over Kansas City one week after getting dumped 30-20 at Carolina; a playoff-clinching 35-14 rout of Houston in the 2019 season finale, one week after losing 38-28 to New Orleans; and last year’s AFC South-clinching 41-38 over Houston, which came a week after the one-sided loss to the Packers.
“I’d probably say the culture around here helps, a pretty good culture,” tackle David Quessenberry said. “If we get knocked down, hey, you … just get back up.”
Added Vrabel: “I don’t think anybody ever wants to lose. But … you have to go out every week in this league and prove it. It is a demanding league, a great league from that standpoint. The challenges presented each week are great, and hopefully we will come back here together and start figuring these things out here as a team.”
The bounece-back stat: He’s 7-0 as a starter for Tennessee in games following ones with a quarterback rating of less than 100.0.
Tannehill has been money ever since he took over the job midway through the 2019 season. He posted an NFL-best 117.5 quarterback rating in 2019, and he was fifth last year at 106.5.
But things haven’t always been great. There was the two-interception contest in the 2019 loss at Carolina. There was also the egg he laid in Green Bay last season, when Tannehill went 11-for-24 with a pair of picks, good for a lowly 40.5 quarterback rating – by far his worst performance in a Titans uniform.
Last Sunday’s performance in the loss to Arizona wasn’t awful – Tannehill went 21-for-35 for 212 yards, one touchdown and one interception – but his 74.9 quarterback rating was the third-worst of 27 starts for Tennessee.
The good news? Some of Tannehill’s best performances in the seven bounce-back games. After the 2019 loss in Carolina, Tannehill put together a highly efficient line of 13-for-19, 182 yards and two touchdowns (133.9 quarterback rating) in the upset win over Kansas City. After a sub-par showing in a win over Minnesota last year, Tannehill roared back against Buffalo, hitting 21-of-28 pass attempts for 195 yards and three touchdowns (129.3 quarterback rating).
That competitive fire showed earlier this week when he talked about the team rebounding from slow starts.
“There are games where you don’t get the start you wanted – you go three-and-out, so what?” Tannehill said. “You have to be able to reset and come out the next drive swinging and make a play.
“That will be a challenge for us moving forward, is if things don’t go perfectly or at some point in the game. Okay, go to the sideline, make the adjustments, and come out swinging the next drive.”
The bounce-back stat: In each of his last seven games following sub-100-yard performances, Henry has run for more than 100 yards in the following contest.
It’s fair to say November of 2019 was the time Henry vaulted into whatever elite running-back stratosphere he now occupies. During one phenomenal stretch beginning in that month, Henry topped 100 yards four straight times, compiling a total of 599 yards.
So, the kind of fair-to-middling performance he put together last Sunday against Arizona – 17 carries for 58 yards and a 3.4 average – has been the exception far more often than the norm recently. In fact, Henry’s 58 rushing yards were the second-lowest total he’s produced since November of 2019.
But again, it’s easy to find optimism when it comes to potentially bouncing back. Included in his rebound outings are some monster performances, such as 23 carries for 188 yards against Kansas City in 2019; 32 carries for 211 yards against Houston in 2019; and 26 carries for 215 yards and two touchdowns against Jacksonville last year.
The bottom line? Opponents haven’t been able to hold down the Titans – be it Vrabel, Tannehill or Henry – for long over the last couple of seasons. So, the Titans should travel with confidence to Seattle.
“I think it is just the mentality,” Henry said of the Titans’ success in recovering quickly. “We don’t want to have that same result. We know we didn’t play to our standards and that we have to play better. Watch the film, grow from it, come out here and try to get better every day leading up to Sunday.”