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Armando Salguero: Titans Give A Preview Of What They Can Be In The Playoffs

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The Tennessee Titans on Thursday night served up a preview of what may be coming in the next couple of weeks and in the NFL playoffs.

I’ll get to those details in a couple of paragraphs but for those who jumped off the Titans’ early season bandwagon, let me catch you up:

There were unpleasant moments around the Titans the last month as they lost talented players to injuries or Covid-19, lost three of four games, and soon lost support from some fans and pundits who allowed themselves to start thinking about maybe next year.

“We can say everything’s broke and this guy sucks and fire the coach because that’s the easy answer right?” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said Thursday night in summing up the reaction of some to the past few weeks.

“The hard answer is getting in there and coaching and teaching and getting guys to understand what’s going on, making sure they know what to do so they can get out there and play aggressive and physical and take care of the guy with the football.”

The Titans rebounded from all that losing with a comeback 20-17 victory over the San Francisco 49ers that served notice Vrabel’s team isn’t finished quite yet.

The Titans emerged from the brink of what seemed like continued bad news in withstanding and eventually overcoming a 10-0 deficit. And in the process, Tennessee found a key missing part of the offense in the person of receiver A.J. Brown.

Brown, on injured reserve with a chest injury since Week 11, was activated Thursday afternoon and caught 11 passes for 145 yards.

Brown not only joined the Tennessee offense but at times was the most dynamic part of the unit when one considers he accounted for half of Ryan Tannehill’s 22 completions and more than three-quarters of the quarterback’s 209 passing yards.

“You obviously see how much he means to our team, means to our energy.” safety Kevin Byard said. “He was obviously working them boys so I’m just proud of him.

“When he’s out there, he’s playing bully ball. He means so much to the offense. It’s how Derrick Henry was when he was playing as well.”

That’s important because there is growing optimism among some within the Titans organization that Henry, out since fracturing his foot Oct. 31 and having surgery two days later, will be available in the playoffs.

The timetable is tight because Henry suffered a Jones fracture which calls for eight weeks of recovery. That would set up Henry for return the final week of the season, but the Titans are not likely to put him on the field right away, per a source.

But given another week, around the start of the playoffs the weekend of Jan. 15-16, could conceivably be enough time to make Henry available.

And we just saw how dangerous the Titans can be with the juice from the return of one of their better players.

Henry is their best player.

Yes, the Titans could be nasty come playoff time.

But we shouldn’t overshadow Brown’s return with hopeful thoughts of Henry in a couple of weeks. Because Brown’s return was hard earned and meaningful.

“I was on IR watching the games and it was tough to watch,” Brown said. “I know it was tough to be in those games and losing those big games but it was tough for me just watching. Because this is what I love to do. I really feel like this is my purpose of living so it was tough.”

Brown caught eight of his passes on third down.

“That’s the money down,” Brown said. “You got to convert to keep these drives going.”

It sounds easier than it was. Two weeks ago, Brown was struggling to simply regain his ability to get through a game, or a practice, or even a wind sprint.

“I wasn’t able to get my heart rate up for like two weeks,” Brown said. “So I couldn’t do nothing. So when I got back out there, I was dying. I was doing a lot of conditioning. I was even doing conditioning on my own.”

In between practice periods, while teammates were hydrating or walking to their next drill, Brown was running, “trying to get as much as I can to build” his conditioning back to what it had been.

“They,” Brown said of the Tennessee training staff, “worked the hell out of me.”

This doesn’t mean Brown’s return changes the team’s personality. He heightens it rather than changes it.

“We want to play games gritty, want to get games gritty, make it close, get it to the fourth quarter,” Byard said. “That’s how our offense is built. And our defense, man, I’m so proud of the guys.”

Now, consider of the Titans with both Brown and Henry back in the lineup. Barring a setback, that seems to be on the way.

Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

Written by Armando Salguero

Armando Salguero has covered the NFL since 1990 for the Palm Beach Post, Miami Herald and ESPN. He was a 2016 Associated Press Sports Editors Top 10 columnist. He is a Pro Football Hall of Fame selector and AP All-Pro team voter.

3 Comments

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  1. The Titans when fully healthy are probably the best team in the NFL, but they can’t all get healthy at once. If they get Henry back and the o line back healthy for the playoffs folks better watch out, but I’m not sure they can. They’ve had the worst luck injury year of any team I’ve ever seen and are still in the thick of it. Vrabel deserves to be coach of the year for overcoming all this insane adversity to have them where they are.

  2. Merry Christmas Armando!
    Remember your article of a few days ago. Something like “Titans need Thill to play great but he isn;t even good” that cited horrible stats for Tannehill?
    If you looked past the stats Tannehill was decent back then. PFF ranked him as the 8th QB of the league in total grade.
    As soon as you give Tannehill a top receiver like Brown he is going to play well. Definitely like a top 10 QB, And that is with or without Henry.
    If Julio Jones can recover to a semblance of his self this season and Henry comes back for the playoffs the Titans are going to make noise.

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