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As rematches go this one between the Tennessee Titans and Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday has taken a turn toward some serious off-field issues.
How does mental health strike you?
And drunk driving?
And death threats?
This is all sorts of heaviness beyond blocking and tackling. And it’s all something the Titans must overcome if they want to win for the eighth time in nine games.
For context you must recall the Bengals beat the Titans 19-16 in a divisional playoff game last postseason. And Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw 3 interceptions and was generally ineffective in the game.
That left Tannehill with a lasting mental and emotional mark.
“It’s a deep scar,” Tannehill admitted in the offseason. “Every time I closed my eyes I kind of rewatched the game. I didn’t get a whole lot of sleep for weeks. I was in a dark place, and it took me a while, a lot of work, to get out of it.”
This wasn’t your typical rough day at the office. It threatened to be career defining and soul-crushing. It needed so much attention that Tannehill said he required therapy sessions to overcome his pain.
That nightmare game was 10 months ago and the quarterback addressed his emotional issues in the offseason. So there’s been time to heal.
Hard to do.
Titans’ Ryan Tannehill Says No Revenge
Tannehill, for the record, now denies Sunday’s game in Nashville has anything to do with that playoff game. It has nothing to do with revenge or redemption, according to the quarterback.
“No doubt,” Tannehill said. “Like I said after Thursday night [against the Green Bay Packers], that was last year. Half of this team wasn’t even here. This is a new team facing another new team in a game we want to win but it has nothing to do with last year.”
And how is Tannehill doing from a mental health recovery standpoint?
“I don’t know exactly what you’re looking for there, but every year is a learning experience,” he said. “You’re learning the guys around you. You are learning the nuances of how things are going throughout the year. Each and every year is a little bit different.
“There is a little bit different mental side to it. Myself and everyone included has grown mentally throughout the challenges of this year.”
One of those challenges was brought on by Titans offensive coordinator Todd Downing.
Todd Downing Also Dealing With Issues
Following Tennessee’s 27-17 victory over the Packers on Nov. 17, perhaps the most encouraging offensive performance for the Titans this season, Downing returned home to Nashville on the team charter.
He was then stopped for speeding and arrested for driving under the influence after failing a field sobriety test.
Downing did not avail himself to the team’s ride share program to get home. And he reportedly told the Tennessee State Trooper who arrested him he was speeding because his family had been receiving death threats, according to one report.
“It’s devastating that my actions or anything I’m involved with could bring negative attention to, or distractions to this organization,” Downing said during his weekly press conference on Wednesday. “I believe in myself as a man. And I believe I will answer the bell to lead this offense going forward … These guys in the locker room deserve for me to put my best efforts forth in that.”
Downing remains at his post but only for now until the legal system decides his fate. Then Downing will have to answer to the club as well as the NFL for possibly violating the league’s personal conduct policy.
With possible jail time and his job status at stake, Downing will call the plays for the Titans against the Bengals.
“These guys have really helped me focus on the job they need for me to do for them,” Downing said. “So I’ve been working hard to try to compartmentalize my dealings with my duties here.”
Downing said he’d like to “lay everything out” but declined to say whether he’d been threatened before the night of his arrest and if he’d called authorities about such matters.
“I mentioned how much my family’s already been through and that is a portion of what I’m not at liberty to discuss at the moment,” Downing said.
So obviously these are tough times for the offensive coordinator. And, granted, he’s responsible for getting himself in this mess.
But that fact doesn’t soften the difficulty of his situation.
“Can’t think of much tougher,” Downing admitted.
Even harder than playing the Bengals?
“Yeah, appreciate you turning it to football,” Downing said. “…We need to play with speed and urgency and confidence and that’s what we’re focused on this week.”
Well, perhaps more accurately, that’s one of the things the Titans are focused on.