NASHVILLE — In Week 3, Tennessee Titans (8-2) right tackle David Quessenberry dropped a line to coach Mike Vrabel as he was entering the locker room. His team had just pulled out a 25-15 victory over the Indianapolis Colts.
The theme of Quessenberry’s message resonated at every level of Tennessee’s 23-21 victory over the New Orleans Saints (5-4) on Sunday.
“It ain’t pretty, but it’s beautiful.”
In 2021, it has become the Titans mantra. All Vrabel’s team has done in the last month is rattle off five straight games over teams that made the playoffs in 2020. No NFL team has accomplished that feat in 18 years.
Per NFL Media’s Andrew Siciliano, Tennessee’s six consecutive victories give it the longest active winning streak in the NFL.
Titans don’t care it it gets ugly
Ugly wins count the same.
“Ugly” seems an unfair description of the entire Titans product right now. Offensively, things were always going to look worse without Henry. Tennessee’s work horse was lost for the foreseeable future with a Jones Fracture in Week 8. Without him, the Titans have yet to eclipse 300 yards of total offense and only converting 29.1% of their third downs. Opponents are defending them differently without the threat of game-breaking rushing scores looming in the backfield.
“We’ve proven that over the course of three and a half years that some days they’re going to be really good and you’re going to have your fastball and everything’s going to be clicking, and some days it’s going to be a little tougher sledding,” said Vrabel. “And certainly that was the case today. But they know how to win. They do know how to win. I’m thankful for that.”
Vrabel’s squad is 4-1 in one-score games this season. They have seen enough of these tests to understand how to gut it out.
Where Tennessee has been aesthetically pleasing is on the defensive side of the ball. The Titans pass rush has accumulated as many sacks in six weeks this year as they did all of last season (19). They could have eclipsed it had a holding on corner Chris Jackson not wiped one off of the board. The stable of Jeffery Simmons, Harold Landry and Denico Autry racked up four total on Sunday against New Orleans anyway.
Bud Dupree played one snap against the Saints, but was quickly ruled out with an abdominal injury.
“I love winning,” Simmons said. “I don’t care how it comes. (There’s) always room to improve, but come in when we come back on Wednesday, watch film or whatever it may be, of course each and every week you have to be better in this league. We have to come in and play. You never know when another team can come in, any team in this league can get beat. So, I love winning, winning in this league. I learned since I have been in the league it’s hard to win in this league. So, you know, we are going to enjoy this win. We always like tough games. Sometimes it might not be as tough as it was today, but as long we got the dub, I am satisfied.”
Vrabel’s influence is strong in Tennessee
The 2021 Titans have a better than 99% chance of making the playoffs through 10 weeks.
Beating the Saints gave them a 1.5 game lead in their conference. A second-straight loss by the Las Vegas Raiders (5-4) boosted Tennessee’s chances of claiming a postseason first-round bye to 76%, according to FiveThirtyEight.com. They have done all of this, mind you, while having 82 different players participate for them in games this season.
The trust Vrabel’s players have in him and his staff’s weekly plan shines through each week.
“Vrabel…that man will beat a dead horse, for sure,” joked left tackle Taylor Lewan. “No doubt about it. But, the way that he does it, is very impressive. There’s a reason, there is a method to his madness.”
Mad man or not, Vrabel’s Titans are 8-2 with the softest remaining strength of schedule in football. The job is not yet finished. The AFC South is not yet won. They get first-career sacks out of Naquan Jones in big moments and 100-yard games out of Marcus Johnson when Julio Jones goes to Injured Reserve or A.J. Brown has the drops.
Need a game-changing fumble to set up a score? Send out the practice squad call-up linebacker to make the play.
Cole World! @dylancole31 set the tone today. 💪🏽
— Tennessee Titans (@Titans) November 14, 2021
For all that lies ahead, there is a feeling of trust that Tennessee will be ready. For every Derrick Henry, there are 10 more Dylan Cole’s.
Featured Image: USA TODAY Sports.