NASHVILLE, Tenn. ⏤ The atmosphere at Nissan Stadium on Saturday afternoon ahead of the Tennessee Titans‘ divisional-round tilt with the Bengals was electric.

Every seat was full, most of them occupied by Titans fans wearing various shades of blue, eager to cheer on their team just two weeks after it earned the AFC’s No. 1 seed and a first-round bye.

When RB Derrick Henry took the field during pregame introductions, his first time doing so in over two months because of a foot injury, the building erupted.

All that noise momentarily died down just a few minutes later, though, when Titans QB Ryan Tannehill threw an ugly interception to Bengals safety Jessie Bates III on the first play of the game.

“Usually the safety is not in that position against that coverage against that play,” Tannehill said. “You have to tip your hat to him. He made a heck of a play.”

A MELTDOWN PERFORMANCE

Tannehill’s first play was, unfortunately for the Titans, an indication of how the remainder of the game would go for him⏤a game that left a once raucous Nissan Stadium bereft and nearly silent at its end.

The Titans fell to Cincinnati 19-16, and Tannehill was their bane.

He certainly wasn’t all bad. A.J. Brown’s odds-defying 33-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter wouldn’t have been possible without an accurate throw from Tannehill, nor would any of Brown’s other four catches in his impressive 142-yard performance.

Overall, though, Tannehill dropped the ball, and he did so in a way that makes it fair to question whether the Titans can win a Super Bowl with him.

Tannehill was never going to be the caliber of quarterback to carry the Titans on a playoff run, but what’s especially concerning about his meltdown on Saturday was the number of costly mistakes he made.

His three interceptions, the third of which came as Tennessee was nearing field-goal range on its final possession of the game, killed the Titans.

“It was a frustrating day all the way around,” Tannehill said.

“This hurts, it hurts bad.”

The Titans didn’t need Tannehill to be a savant against the Bengals. They didn’t even need him to elevate them.

Because of their defense’s record-setting, nine-sack performance, the Titans just needed Tannehill to avoid losing them the game.

Instead, he threw interceptions 1) on the first play of the game, 2) in the red zone immediately following a 45-yard run by D’Onta Foreman and 3) with 28 seconds left during what should have been a game-winning drive for the Titans.

He also failed to guide the offense to points until the second quarter, undoubtedly setting the Titans back.

A TROUBLING TREND

If Tannehill’s performance against Cincinnati was a one-off, the “is he good enough?” conversation would be premature. Everyone has a bad game here and there in the postseason⏤just ask Peyton Manning.

But Saturday’s game marked the third time since Tannehill joined the Titans in 2019 that he wasn’t good enough in a playoff loss. In each of those three losses, he didn’t make enough plays and made too many mistakes.

In the Titans’ two playoff wins with Tannehill at QB, he was barely needed; Henry dominated those games.

Given another opportunity after the 2022 regular season, it’s fair to doubt that Tannehill’s result would be any different. There’s certainly no evidence, at least now, to point to that being a possibility.

The Titans love Tannehill, and he’s not going anywhere anytime soon, especially since the 2022 crop of draftable quarterbacks appears to be rather lackluster.

“We want Ryan to be our quarterback for a long time,” head coach Mike Vrabel said on Dec. 29.

He’s also been a more-than-steady option in the regular season, posting a 30-13 record since becoming Tennessee’s starter.

When the Titans have needed Tannehill in January, though, he’s fallen short each time.

Had Tannehill delivered even a marginally cleaner performance on Saturday, the Titans would be preparing to play in the AFC Championship next weekend.

Instead, they’ll go home disappointed, and everyone who analyzes them will spend the next six months wondering if they have the signal-caller they need to achieve their Super-Bowl aspirations.

Cover image: Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer