After spending all week telling the public that Sunday’s matchup with the Titans didn’t carry extra weight after losing to them in the playoffs, Lamar Jackson sure seemed to care about his Week 11 opponent.
He gathered his Ravens teammates on the sideline and gave them an impassioned pregame speech. For some quarterbacks that would be standard procedure. For Jackson, a lead-by-example type of player, it was an extremely rare display.
Such is the seriousness with which AFC teams are now taking the Titans, who reached the AFC chamionship game last year after entering the postseason with minimal fanfare. Even with Baltimore locked in Sunday, Tennessee managed to make another statement with a 30-24 comeback overtime win. The team is now 7-3 and on pace for its best record since 2008.
Derrick Henry, who delivered a walk-off OT power run, is part of why the Titans continue to leave opponents dejected. But when he is discussed as the only reason for their success, the other contributors to their vast improvement are swept aside. Ryan Tannehill is on his way to a second straight season with a passer rating above 100; in the victory over the Ravens (6-4), he led a go-ahead fourth-quarter drive of 90 yards capped by a touchdown pass to A.J. Brown and finished the afternoon with a 104.1 passer rating. Wide receiver Corey Davis, once considered a draft bust, is finally breaking out.
“We’re going to have to start doing things that will break us away from the pack,” coach Mike Vrabel told reporters. “Today was a great step, a great team win. . . . You could just kind of tell as the game went on that we were wearing on them.”
Tannehill is the most improbable facet of this Titans group, surprisingly turning into a star midseason in 2019 after taking over for Marcus Mariota. At this point there is enough evidence to believe his production can be trusted indefinitely.
He averaged 14 interceptions per 16 games with the Dolphins. He has thrown just 10 picks in 22 career games with the Titans. He overshadowed Jackson on Sunday, particularly when he needed to pull his team back from a 21-10 deficit in the second half.
The Titans have one of the softer remaining schedules among AFC playoff contenders, meaning a first-round playoff game at home is very much on the table. Not long ago, hosting postseason action in Nashville seemed a distant hope.
Baltimore players, meanwhile, should walk away from their loss fully realizing it’s the Titans, not them, who pose the greatest challenge to the Steelers and Chiefs atop the AFC right now. There’s a gap they still need to close with the Tennessee. If that was a surprise this past January, it can’t be anymore.