Some Former Titans Have Sights Set on Super Bowl

Three of the four teams playing in Sunday's NFL conference championships have direct connections to Tennessee.
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The Tennessee Titans had hopes of returning to the AFC Championship game to compete for a trip to the Super Bowl for a second straight season. Quickly, those hopes vanished in a 20-13 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the wild card round two weekends ago.

That is not to say that Titans fans should not have rooting interests on championship weekend. Three of the four teams remaining have at least one former Titans player or coach who will compete for a trip to Super Bowl LV on Sunday.

All Titans breaks down all of championship Sunday’s connections to the Titans:

NFC CHAMPIONSHIP

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Green Bay Packers

By far, this game features more former Titans players and coaches than the AFC Championship game.

Green Bay: Most notably, of course, former offensive coordinator Matt LeFleur is the head coach of the Green Bay Packers. LaFleur directed the Titans' offense for one season -- Mike Vrabel’s first year as head coach of the Titans (2018). In his lone season in Tennessee, LaFleur’s offense ranked No. 7 in the league in rushing yards per-game (126.4) and the Titans turned the ball over just 18 times (third fewest in a season in franchise history).

To many, LaFleur’s Packers are Super Bowl favorites this season. He has built a strong relationship with quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who, at age 37, has turned in an MVP-caliber season. The nine-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro set career-highs in the regular season in completion percentage (70.8 percent) and touchdown passes (48). He also led the league in both of those categories. The Packers had the fifth-best offense this season and finished atop the league in points scored (509).

The other connection is rookie offensive guard Jon Runyan Jr. His father, Jon Runyan Sr., began his 15-year NFL career with the Oilers/Titans franchise in 1996. The one-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman spent four seasons with the organization, one in Houston and the other three in Tennessee, playing in 58 games and starting 48 of them. He was a part of the 1999 Titans team that famously came up one yard short of defeating the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV. Both Runyans played collegiately at the University of Michigan.

Tampa Bay: Four former Titans currently play for the Buccaneers, and Ryan Succop is the biggest name of them all.

The veteran kicker played five full seasons with the Titans during which made 86 percent of his field goal attempts (116-134) and only missed seven times from inside 50 yards. He also made all but 11 of his extra-point tries. Prior to the 2019 season, his last with the Titans, he led the franchise in career field goal percentage before a knee injury plagued his performance and season.

Greg Joseph, another former Titans kicker, has been on Tampa Bay’s practice squad all season. He was one of the three kickers Tennessee experimented with last season as Succop went on and off of injured reserve. He played in five games last season (the final two regular season games and all three in the postseason) and made all 18 of his extra-point attempts. He only attempted one field goal, which he made in the AFC Championship game against Kansas City. Joseph entered training camp this past summer as the Titans’ No. 1 option at kicker but was released soon after the Titans signed veteran Stephen Gostkowski.

Guard Aaron Stinnie signed with the Titans signed as an undrafted free agent in 2018 and made the 53-man roster. He played in four games over a season and a half with Tennessee before being cut in November 2019. He has been with the Buccaneers ever since, playing in eight regular season games and one postseason game this season (vs. New Orleans last Sunday), which was also his first career NFL start.

Tom Brady’s backup in his first season outside of New England is quarterback Blaine Gabbert, Tennessee’s No. 2 in 2018. Gabbert has seen minimal action in four appearances for the Buccaneers, unlike his one year with the Titans when he started three games in place of Marcus Mariota, including a win-and-in Week 17 matchup with Indianapolis (the Colts won).

AFC CHAMPIONSHIP

Buffalo Bills vs. Kansas City Chiefs

Kansas City: Tajaé Sharpe once was seen as an exciting wide receiver prospect after Tennessee selected him in the fifth round of the 2016 NFL Draft. After a strong rookie season, his career has gone in the wrong direction.

In three seasons with the Titans, Sharpe played in 47 games (27 starts) and caught 92 passes for 1,167 yards and eight touchdowns, much of which came that first year (41 receptions for 522 yards, two touchdowns).

Sharpe spent much of this season with the Minnesota Vikings. He appeared in four games and did not record a single catch before the team waived him on Dec. 14. The Kansas City Chiefs quickly signed him to their practice squad, where he has languished since.

Buffalo: The Bills are the only team competing for a trip to the Super Bowl without a direct Titans connection. However, they are the best story to root for. Buffalo won its first AFC East title since 1995 and will be competing for a trip to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1994.

The Bills, like the Titans, have never won it all but have come close. Buffalo played in four straight Super Bowls from 1991-1994 and lost each one.