The playoffs are now a familiar experience for most of the Tennessee Titans' roster.
This is the third season in a row that Tennessee has made the postseason and the fourth time in the past five years. That type of stretch equals the best run of playoffs since the team moved to Tennessee and qualified for the postseason in four of five years form 1999-2003.
This season, the Titans have a new experience – holding the No. 1 seed. Twice before in franchise history (2000 and 2008) since the merger, the Titans have been the top seed and lost – both times to Baltimore. The good news is that the Ravens are sitting at home this year. But Saturday's opponent, the Cincinnati Bengals, represent a good challenge in their own right, having beating the Las Vegas Raiders, 26-19, last week in the Wild-Card round.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who waited seven years before getting his first taste of the posteason in 2019, has advice to his teammates who might not have a lot of postseason experience.
“These opportunities don’t come around all too often. You have to go out, take advantage of every rep. If you are a guy that gets 10 reps, then make those the best 10 reps of the year,” Tannehill said. “You have to go full-out every single play because the stakes are higher, and teams are better. If you don’t play your best ball then you are going to be sitting at home.”
The Titans found that out the hard way last year, when yet again Baltimore came to Nashville and upset the Titans in the Wild-Card round, just a year after Tennessee had stunned the top-seeded Ravens in Baltimore.
“You definitely learn from that experience. I don’t think last year really matters at this point. It is a new year, new team, new opportunity. You take the experience and learn from it, and you don’t want to let it happen again,” Tannehill said.
The Titans quarterback said his advice to his teammates is simply to execute on game day.
“You have been there before. The experience is not new. At the end of the day, you have to go out and execute and play well,” he said.
Titans coach Mike Vrabel said that while playoff experience is a good thing, it is more important to execute – something the Titans did well in 2019 making it to the AFC Championship as a six seed, and something that didn't go well last year, when they lost in the first round as a division champ. He pointed to how the Bengals played last week as a good example of executing the plays in order to win.
“I think we have had some guys that have played in playoff games and won in playoff games. What it really comes down to is executing and being able to maintain focus throughout the game,” Tannehill said. “That game they had last week came down to a goal line stand. They really stayed focused. Looked like the Bengals played each and every play and then were able to finish the game off. I think experience is great, but at the end of the day we are going to have to really just execute, focus, and not do things that hurt us.”
Tannehill acknowledged, however, that there is a buzz inside St. Thomas Sports Park now that the postseason is here and the opportunities that it presents.
“There is an excitement. There is a buzz. You work all season to get into the playoffs and go chase a ring. We are excited to be here. We are excited to have this opportunity and go play our best ball on Saturday,” he said.
The Titans practiced in pads on Tuesday, probably as a two-part mission.
First, after having had a week off and not practicing much last week it is a way to get back into the groove of football.
Second, it also is a way to help get Derrick Henry back up to speed as much as possible and knock off any rust that he might have with two-and-a-half months out following surgery on his broken right foot.
“We will be in pads today, I think that is a good step. We will have to have some contact. It has been a while since he has had contact,” Vrabel said. “We are going to have to do these things that will come close to replicating what is going to be asked of (Henry) in a football game. We will have a week of work, see how he feels and make a decision.”
Henry is still on injured reserve, but was designated to return two weeks ago. It is anticipated that he would be activated for Saturday's playoff game barring a setback.
The Titans head into the playoff game about as healthy as they have been all season. Only three players appeared on the injury report, and none of them missed practice.
Defensive linemen Teair Tart (ankle, limited participation) and Naquan Jones (knee, full participation) and cornerback Buster Skrine (hamstring, full participation) are the only players on the injury report.