NASHVILLE, Tenn. ⏤ Ryan Tannehill is and has always been a good quarterback for the Tennessee Titans. Lately, though, he’s struggled.

His struggles reached rock-bottom on Sunday in a four-interception meltdown performance against the 32nd ranked Houston Texans defense.

“Obviously, that was probably one of the worst games I have been a part of,” Tannehill said.

A lot of factors out of Tannehill’s control⏤such as injuries, underwhelming play-calling and bad protection⏤have undoubtedly contributed to his shortcomings, and the Titans wouldn’t be anywhere close to 8-3 without him.

However, the 2021 season has easily been Tannehill’s worst since taking over Tennessee’s starting QB job, and much of the blame falls squarely on his shoulders.


Tannehill’s biggest problem in 2021 has been his recklessness with the football; he’s thrown 12 interceptions in just 11 games.

That total would be 13 if an iffy roughing the passer penalty hadn’t wiped out his miserable INT to Saints safety Marcus Williams in the end zone in Week 10.

To contextualize the volume of Tannehill’s 2021 turnovers, he threw just 13 total picks over 26 starts in his first two seasons with the Titans.

Some of Tannehill’s interceptions, including two of his four against Houston, weren’t his fault such as when, twice on Sunday, rookie WR Dez Fitzpatrick failed to run the correct route and set his QB up to fail.

“There are different contributing factors to each one of those turnovers,” said offensive Todd Downing, who offered to take the blame for most of Tennessee’s giveaways against Houston.

The reality is, though, that the majority of Tannehill’s 12 picks were the result of ill-advised throws into coverage.

It was certainly Tannehill’s fault when he made the terrible decision to test superstar cornerback Jalen Ramsey on a quick out with his first throw of the game against Los Angeles in Week Nine.

It was also his fault when he stared down WR A.J. Brown in the red zone and threw the ball straight to Texans linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill.

“At the end of the day, it all falls squarely upon me,” Tannehill said after the Texans game, an embarrassing, 22-13 loss for Tennessee. “I have to be better.”


Beyond the turnovers and statistical shortcomings, Tannehill has lacked a certain flare in 2021 that he had in his first two seasons as the Titans’ starter. He isn’t consistently elevating his teammates as he has in the past.

The trademark explosive plays that made him a Pro Bowler in 2019 and one of the NFL’s best statistical signal-callers in 2020 have been absent.

And while the aforementioned difficult conditions Tannehill has endured have been miles from ideal, good quarterbacks have a knack for making something happen when adversity arises.

Is it unfair to judge Tannehill based on difficult to define, unmeasurable, intangible qualities? Perhaps.

But it is undeniable that, based on the eye test, 2021 Tannehill has looked nothing like the assassin who led the Titans to the AFC Championship in 2019 and a division title in 2020.


With all of that being said, it is important to note that Tannehill has still been more-than-passable this season. The Titans are, after all, 8-3, and his supporting cast has, at times, been lackluster at best.

At one point on Sunday, the Titans used an empty set in which Tannehill’s receiving options were Dontrell Hilliard, Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, Anthony Firkser, Chester Rogers and Dez Fitzpatrick.

That crew is a far cry from the likes of A.J. Brown, Corey Davis, Derrick Henry and Jonnu Smith⏤Tannehill’s top weapons from 2019-2020.

Tannehill has also, amid his struggles, continued to be a top-notch leader for Tennessee. With Henry currently sidelined because of a foot injury, the heart and soul of the Titans is their QB.

“Ryan is obviously our leader,” head coach Mike Vrabel said. “He is our quarterback, and we will go as he goes.”

Tannehill is so beloved by his teammates that, when he throws interceptions, even ones that are clearly his fault, they scramble and try to blame themselves

Westbrook-Ikhine found himself in that situation during the Texans game.

“There was a play, that last pick, where I was like, ‘maybe if I had held the eyes of the DB, the corner a little bit longer on my route, he wouldn’t have been able to fall off and get the INT,’” he said.

Examples like that illustrate just how valuable Tannehill really is and, perhaps, how rich it is to carp at the quarterback of a team that has the best record in its conference.

At the end of the day, though, regardless of the Titans’ record and how much the Titans love Tannehill, he does need to be better.

We’ve all seen the elite play of which he’s capable, but he’s been missing the mark, overall, in 2021.

Cover image: Christopher Hanewinckel