Don't Let the Smile Fool You, Tannehill a Serious Competitor

The Titans quarterback led the NFL in game-winning drives and fourth-quarter comebacks during the 2020 regular season.
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Don’t be fooled by quarterback Ryan Tannehill’s even-keeled demeanor.

He’s one of the fiercest competitors on any football field. Or so says his position coach.

“Make no mistake, he is ultra-competitive,” Tennessee Titans quarterback coach Pat O’Hara said Tuesday. “Don’t ever excuse his calm demeanor on the outside from being a fierce competitor. That is something about him that is very evident to me and his teammates.”

Tannehill’s competitive streak was on full display Sunday against the Houston Texans. With a division title at stake, he threw for 216 yards and tallied three touchdowns, two rushing and one passing.

With the game on the line, he connected with wide receiver A.J. Brown on a 51-yard pass that set up Sam Sloman’s game-winning field goal as times expired.

“(It’s) his calm demeanor on the outside and being a fierce competitor,” O’Hara said. “He maintains that even-keel demeanor and that helps him in pressure situations like (Sunday).”

Tannehill is no stranger to the big moment. The events of this season leading up to the matchup with the Texans prepared him for his latest fourth-quarter flurry.

In the just-completed regular season, he led the NFL with five fourth-quarter comebacks and six game-winning drives in the fourth-quarter or overtime. In games decided by one possession, the Titans went 7-2.

The only Tennessee quarterback who has approached that level of late-game production was Vince Young. As a rookie in 2006, he led four fourth-quarter comebacks and five game-winning drives, both of which led the NFL that season.

Dating back to when Tannehill first took over as the starter, the Titans are 11-3 in games decided by one possession.

He’s a closer. And much like a star relief pitcher in baseball, Tannehill looks forward to the high stakes moment where he can get his team out of a tight jam.

“I think it’s fun,” Tannehill said. “I get to do what I dreamed of doing as a kid. I love going out there on a Sunday and competing with guys that I love playing with. I love the competition of it

“... I love the game, all of it.”

Tannehill’s success can be attributed to his ability to avoid the emotional roller coaster that some ride throughout a game. He remains focused on the current task at hand, staying competitive.

And because of that, the Titans found ways to win in close games, in which the outcomes could have varied drastically.

“At the end of games, it’s maintaining that calm demeanor, while also being ultra-competitive,” O’Hara said.

With Tannehill under center last year, the Titans offense found a new life.

That unit went from being shut out by the Denver Broncos on Oct. 13, 2019 to scoring at least 20 points in the next 10 games and more than 30 in five of the final seven. That momentum carried over into the 2020 NFL season, which saw Tannehill throw for 3,819 yards and a career-high 33 touchdowns.

Tannehill and the Titans finished second in the NFL in average yards per game (396.4) and fourth in points per game average (30.7).

He’s found freedom within Arthur Smith’s system, and he’s been seen smiling more on the field because of it.

“I’ve loved playing the game,” Tannehill said. “I think about what I went through (with) injury, and then through what I went last year, I think I’ve grown a bigger appreciation for enjoying the moment.”

A quarterback who isn’t afraid of the big moments is a tremendous advantage in the NFL playoffs. Tannehill’s late-game record proves that he can rise to the occasion, courtesy of an outsized competitive streak.