When Ryan Tannehill’s scheduled start Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts will mark a milestone of sorts.
Tannehill, who took over six games into the 2019 season, will be making his 49th consecutive regular-season start since taking the reins from Marcus Mariota after the Titans began 2-4 that season.
That 49th start by Tannehill will move him past Steve McNair for the record for most consecutive starts by a quarterback for the team during the Titans era.
While 49 consecutive starts might not sound like much when compared to streaks put up by Brett Favre (NFL record 297), Peyton (208) and Eli Manning (103), Tom Brady (111) among others, given the recent injury history of the Titans, it almost achieves miracle status.
Tannehill being able to answer the bell despite players being injured all around him cannot be understated as a reason the Titans have remained a contender. The team went through an NFL-record 91 players last season and still went 12-5 to captured their second consecutive AFC South division title.
This year, the Titans sit again atop the division at 3-2 after a much-needed bye week. Tennessee has already used 64 players through just five games this year, meaning they might set another record if the trend continues.
But the constant among all of the lineup changes at nearly every position has been Tannehill, who just happens to play the most important position on the field.
Tannehill has taken his share of hits but says he loves being able to shrug it off and get ready for the next opportunity.
“When you come out of the game without injury, it gives you a lot of momentum to go into the next week feeling good,” Tannehill says.
That durability and approach are valued by his teammates and the coaching staff.
“His toughness is appreciated. I appreciate it; I know the football team appreciates it,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel says. “To be able to stand in there, get hit, try to work through his progression, take care of the football and all those different things.
“The more times that the quarterback gets hit in this league, the more chance you have for error. We have to work on that. We have to improve that. It has been great that he has been able to exhibit that kind of toughness and make plays to help us win.”
Tannehill has operated most of the start streak behind an offensive line that has struggled to protect him. He was sacked 47 times a year ago – second in the NFL behind Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow’s 51 but far removed from David Carr’s 76 in 2002 – and has been sacked 362 times during his 10-year career.
While this season’s totals had not been as bad going into their win over Washington, he was taken down five times by the Commanders, bringing his season total to 12. Thirteen quarterbacks have higher sack totals this year.
Tannehill remains resolute.
“You don’t ever want to get used to seeing your quarterback have to pick himself up, but he tends to get up, thank goodness,” Titans quarterbacks coach Pat O’Hara says. “There’s been a lot of starts, and a lot of consistency at that position. The quarterback touches the ball every play and makes decisions every play that determine the outcome of ballgames. That consistency has been very valuable to us throughout his tenure.”
The Titans have been among the top teams in the NFL – 33-15 – since Tannehill became the starter.
And while Tannehill isn’t considered one of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks, the steadiness and readiness he has provided has more than stabilized the Titans, even as players around him often can’t stay healthy.
“It’s part of his history,” O’Hara says. “He’s a guy that’s an extreme competitor. He doesn’t back down. That’s one of his traits. You don’t teach that. That’s just who he is. That’s what he’s done for the last four years.
“That’s a credit to him, the way he takes care of himself. His diligence, his routine, his same-guy-every-day approach, his competitive nature and his overall toughness and courage are innate traits that he has.”
Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com, a part of Main Street Media.