NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP)Even with all the offseason changes, the Tennessee Titans have reached their bye where they left off last season.
The Titans (2-4) have lost two straight and 11 of 13 dating to last season. Veteran quarterback Ryan Tannehill couldn’t finish the last game, a 24-16 loss to Baltimore in London. He has a sprained right ankle similar to the injury that cost him two starts last season.
Restless fans are ready to see what Malik Willis or rookie Will Levis can do. With the trade deadline looming on Oct. 31, some want the Titans to stock up for the future by trading away anyone another team might want.
Others want coach Mike Vrabel fired. That’s despite the Titans reaching the playoffs in three of his first five seasons with losses in season finales keeping that from being five straight postseason berths, including 2022 with Tennessee mere minutes from a third straight AFC South title.
The Titans? They’re preaching calm. Vrabel, who’s 52-41 as Tennessee’s coach, said he might read some mean social media posts to his team.
“I read all the the funny stuff that they say about us or me specifically,” Vrabel said. “I did that one year. I think we ended up winning 12 games. ‘This coach sucks,’ ‘This guy stinks,’ and ended up having a different tune. Guys all laughed about it.”
Three-time All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins has been on teams that went 2-14 and others that rebounded from early struggles with winning streaks. He advised patience.
“We still got a lot of football to play,” Hopkins said.
Yes, Tannehill is hurt. The offense is averaging 17.3 points a game – down from the 17.5 the Titans averaged last season that was 28th in the league. Despite a change at coordinator to Tim Kelly, they have the NFL’s longest active streak and a franchise-worst 24 straight games scoring fewer than 30 points.
The Titans can’t blame injuries that caused them to lead the NFL in each of the past two seasons for most players used, though they have had some key players hurt.
Starting left guard Peter Skoronski, the 11th overall pick, needed an emergency appendectomy Sept. 16 that cost him two games. Wide receiver Treylon Burks, the 18th pick overall in 2022, has missed three straight after aggravating the left knee he hurt in August.
Burks is expected to return to practice and should be available Oct. 29 when the Titans host Atlanta. He’ll need the work with whoever the Titans pick to replace Tannehill while the veteran is out.
The 86th pick last year by general manager Jon Robinson, who was fired in December, Willis won his first start as a rookie at Houston, a game in which the Titans let him throw once in the second half. Derrick Henry, the two-time NFL rushing leader, ran for 219 yards, leading Tennesseee to a big win.
The Titans lost Willis’ next two starts and turned to a quarterback signed Dec. 21, Joshua Dobbs, to start the final two games trying to reach the postseason. With Tannehill going into the final year of his contract, new general manager Ran Carthon traded up in April to No. 33 overall to select Levis out of Kentucky.
After the bye, it may be time to see what Levis can do. Vrabel said he sees the rookie being more comfortable after missing the final two preseason games with an injury.
“Coming in this league as a quarterback with an existing quarterback, with a player in his second year, that’s unique,” Vrabel said of Levis. “And I think he’s handled that well. I think his comfort level and just being around here has improved.”
The Titans’ two wins both came at home. Oct. 29 will be their lone game in Nashville in a seven-week stretch, and Tannehill likely won’t be available on Nov. 2 when the Titans visit Pittsburgh on a short week.
That starts a three-game road swing against teams that currently have winning records. The crucial game is Nov. 19 when the Titans visit defending AFC South champ Jacksonville, the first of five games remaining inside the division.
Then it’s back to Nashville for five of the final seven games, including the regular season finale against Jacksonville.
Vrabel, whose contract extension was announced in February 2022, made clear Tannehill is the starter when healthy. He planned to remind the Titans of what they’re doing well, fix what must be better and hold everyone accountable.
“We’re going to fight, we ain’t going to quit,” Vrabel said.
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