Tennessee Titans might never be good enough with Ryan Tannehill under center

Ryan Tannehill's 3 interceptions against the Bengals cost the Titans the game, and perhaps their best shot at a Super Bowl.

If not now, when for the Tennessee Titans? They had the AFC’s No. 1 seed, home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, and a wildly flawed opponent (the Cincinnati Bengals) in the Divisional Round. And yet, the Titans’ 62nd season finished the same way as the previous 61 — without a Super Bowl championship — for one major reason: Ryan Tannehill is their quarterback.

Ryan Tannehill comes up short again in the playoffs

Quarterback legacies are made in January. And Tannehill probably cemented his Saturday. He threw 3 costly interceptions in the Titans’ 19-16 loss, the last coming at the worst possible time.

Bengals linebacker Logan Wilson intercepted a pass deflected by Eli Apple near midfield with 20 seconds remaining in a tie game. Tannehill tried to force a ball to Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, and while Apple may have gotten there a bit early, it’s a risk that wasn’t needed. The worst-case scenario for the Titans in that situation should have been overtime.

Instead, Tannehill threw the game away. Four Bengals plays later, one of which was a clutch throw by Joe Burrow to put Cincinnati in scoring range, Evan McPherson boomed through a 52-yard field goal — his fourth make in as many tries Saturday — to send the Bengals to their first AFC Championship Game in 33 years.

“This is brutal,” said Tannehill, who completed 15 of 24 passes for 220 yards, 1 touchdown, and 3 interceptions. “It’s going to hurt for a long time — it’s going to be on my mind for a long time. It’s going to take a long time to get over. You don’t look forward to this situation. You don’t look forward to being out when you’ve had a great opportunity. It’s one of those things that only time will heal.”

Credit Tannehill for his candor. He stood up and answered questions after what was perhaps his lowest professional moment.

But Tannehill’s grace doesn’t change reality or history. This is the second straight year that the Titans’ final offensive play was a Tannehill interception. They lost to the Ravens last year in nearly identical fashion.

Ryan Tannehill’s playoff stats

Tannehill is now 2-3 in the playoffs. He’s completed 62.7% of his attempts in the postseason with a passer rating of 89.0. That’s the definition of average, if not below. And in the playoffs, average gets you beat most every time.

“I don’t think Ryan or myself or anyone did enough to win the game,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said. “It’s never going to be about one player, as long as I’m head coach, which will be a while.”

Vrabel is right. And he isn’t. No one player can do it alone. But the best quarterbacks elevate those around them. Tannehill hasn’t done that. Instead, he’s largely been a complementary piece ever since the Dolphins took him eighth overall in 2012.

Tannehill is now 10 years into a polarizing NFL career, and while he’s capable of the occasional brilliant play — his deep touchdown throw to A.J. Brown was a thing of beauty — he also has a knack for self-destructing when the stakes are the highest.

Titans unlikely to win Super Bowl with Tannehill as QB

It was the knock on him during his seven years in Miami, and now his failures have sabotaged the Titans’ legitimate championship hopes in consecutive years.

Tannehill will get a fourth chance to make right what’s gone wrong in each of the last three postseasons. He’s under contract through 2023, and the Titans would eat a $57.4 million dead cap hit if they’d cut him. It’s not happening.

So Tannehill will be Tennessee’s quarterback next year. But based on his very large body of work, it’s fair to wonder why his 11th season will be any different than his first 10.

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