The Ryan Tannehill hate needs to stop. Almost every criticism Tannehill receives can directly point back to the 2022 playoff matchup against the Bengals where the No. 1 seeded Titans failed to advance to the conference championship round.
And I get it. It's easy to point to 3 INTs as the reason they lost the game. I'm not trying to pretend like committing three turnovers isn't a big deal.
But is Tannehill solely responsible for the loss? And more relevant, does his performance warrant the complete lack of trust that Titans fans have in our QB1 of the last 4 seasons?
Let's revisit this game and examine Tannehill's performance. Since the three interceptions are what everyone focuses on, let's start there:
INT #1 - First Offensive Play of the Game
I respect the aggressiveness of this play call. Play-action deep shot to make a statement and get Julio and the passing game going. Despite my recent criticism of Julio Jones, he had a solid game, finishing with 6 REC for 62 YDS. Although this pass was thrown into a tight window, Julio has made a career of making those kinds of plays; Bengals S Jessie Bates just happened to make this play. Sure, it's upsetting to turnover the ball on the first play, but this by itself didn't have much bearing on the final outcome in my opinion.
INT #2 - 1st & Goal Screen Pass, 6:47 left in the 3rd
Ok, this one was bad. It's still hard to pin all the blame on Tannehill though. This 1st & Goal play is a prime example of former OC Todd Downing trying to get cute at the worst possible time. D'Onta Foreman had just plowed through the Bengals defense for a 45-yard run. Not only that, The King had also been steadily breaking through Cincinnati's first and second level. The run game was rolling, and we decide to pass on first down. The analytics said the Seahawks infamous goal line interception in Super Bowl XLIX was actually the right call. Obviously it wasn't, and passing on this play wasn't either. This play was horrendous and probably the biggest mistake of the game.
INT #3 - 3rd & 5, OWN 40, 0:27 Remaining
Obviously not Tannehill's fault. Not even close. I'm not here to throw shade at Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, but it bounced off my man's shoulder pads. Football is a game of inches, and Nick just straight up missed it. Again, a tight window, but a catchable ball all the same. With the game tied at 16, this turnover set up the game-winning FG for Cincinnati. *Sigh*
Now let's not forget some other aspects of this game.
- Questionable Failed 2PT Conversion: Despite the INT on the first drive, the Titans became the first team to find paydirt with a Derrick Henry 3-yard run, knotting up the score at 6-6. After a Bengals 12-men on the field penalty during the PAT, the Titans elected to go for two and didn't get in. I don't understand the advantage of going up 8-6 vs. 7-6 midway through the 2nd quarter, but getting zero points after the touchdown definitely hurt Tennessee down the stretch.
- Tanny & AJ Were Cookin': Remove two of the three interceptions that weren't clearly Tannehill's fault, and he had a solid stat line. In reality, he finished 15-24, 220 YDS, 1 TD, 3 INT. To be fair, Tannehill owes much of his success to AJ Brown (oof) who finished with 5 receptions for 142 yards and the lone receiving touchdown. That TD was an absolute dime, BTW.
- Burrow became only the second quarterback to win an NFL playoff game despite being sacked nine times, joining Len Dawson who beat Buffalo for the 1966 AFL championship. This is wild. The Bengals O-line looked like they had five Dennis Daleys on the field. I almost felt bad for Joey B, but not really. It's hard to stomach how the offense failed to capitalize on such a historic defensive performance.
In the end, none of these things mattered. The Bengals made more plays than the Titans, and Cincinnati eventually advanced to an improbable Super Bowl appearance. The Titans 2021-2022 season ended sooner than expected, and Ryan Tannehill became the easy scapegoat.
But let's move on from the past. Ryan Tannehill has been named QB1 for the 2023 offseason, and I expect him to keep that position throughout the season. What will happen in the future with QBs Will Levis and Malik Willis remains to be seen, but go ahead and mark it down: I expect Ryan Tannehill to go off this season. He has a much better supporting cast than most Titans fans believe, and a new offensive scheme from OC Tim Kelly. We'll just have to wait and see, but until then,
#TitanUp and #stopTannehillHate