NASHVILLE, Tenn. ⏤ Asked about the Tennessee Titans’ propensity to play their best during difficult situations and struggle amidst not-so-difficult ones on Wednesday, safety Kevin Byard paused and let out a chuckle.
“That’s a weird question,” he said with a sizeable grin.
Byard is right—it is a weird question. But it’s a necessary one.
That’s because the Titans, under head coach Mike Vrabel, haven’t always been the best at responding to success, though they’ve been very good at handling adversity.
Want an example? Look no further than how the Titans started the 2021 season.
Hyped up by the media and favored by Vegas, the Titans suffered a trouncing at the hands of the Arizona Cardinals at home in Week One.
Then, after a week of endlessly hearing about the loss, they rallied for an impressive, odds-defying comeback win against a talented Seattle team in overtime.
Situations like that have been part of the Titans’ M.O. ever since Vrabel took over as head coach in 2018.
In the week following regular season double-digit losses under Vrabel, the Titans are an impressive 8-2. That’s because Vrabel has effectively established a culture in which players never lose hope even in the direst of scenarios.
“There is always going to be adversity,” Vrabel said.
“You want to try to be as consistent and as calm and controlled as you can be.”
What will it take for the #Titans to keep a sense of urgency when they’re not facing adversity like they were last week?
— AtoZSports Nashville (@AtoZSports) September 22, 2021
Following double-digit wins under Vrabel, though, the record tells a bit of a different story; the Titans⏤30-20 under Vrabel, overall⏤are just 6-6 coming off of big wins.
Most of those six losses were total disasters, such as the Titans’ primetime losses to Indianapolis (34-17) and Green Bay (40-14) in 2020.
Also worth mentioning is the Titans’ Week 13 loss to Cleveland in 2020, in which the Titans got slapped around to the tune of a 38-7 first-half deficit just one week after dismantling the Colts in Indianapolis.
Vrabel and the Titans deserve to be lauded for being so good at playing with their backs against the wall, but the team may be relying too heavily on an underdog mindset.
It makes sense that rallying together and having a sense of urgency can be easier for an NFL team following a bad loss.
Players, naturally, have a strong desire to move forward and get rid of the lingering bad taste during those situations. Adopting a “nobody believes in us” attitude certainly brings with it a certain thrill. Plus, getting hit in the mouth can serve as a wake-up call.
To be among the best of the best in the NFL, though, you can’t only be at your best at the tail-end of difficult situations.
“Success, and the preparation and willingness to work, is not an occasional thing,” Vrabel said. “It can’t be, after adversity, ‘we have to focus.'”
Figuring out why the Titans handle success poorly while responding so well to hardship would probably require a psychologist; it’s a difficult issue to get to the bottom of.
It doesn’t take the help of a mental health professional, however, to understand that the Titans won’t reach their seemingly achievable goal of getting to the Super Bowl without a course reversal in that department.
“I guess it’s good that we recognize when we’re not playing well and we play better, but you want to play consistently good the whole time,” Byard said.
Cover image: Joe Nicholson/USA Today