The Tennessee Titans pulled out a win over the San Francisco 49ers Wednesday night when they truly had every right to lose. If not for Jimmy Garoppolo unleashing the full "Garoppolo experience" the Niners likely would have secured a victory. The win left the Titans at 10-5 and in a great position in the AFC. With Derrick Henry poised to return, the Titans are a team no one will want to play in the postseason.
After winning eight of nine during one stretch and starting the season 8-2, the Titans started to struggle in Week 11. A loss to the lowly Houston Texans began a streak of three losses in four games, with the only win coming over the horrendous Jacksonville Jaguars. Thursday night's win restored order and put Tennessee 1.5 games clear of the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC South.
Tennessee hosts the Miami Dolphins in Week 17 then travels to face the Texans to finish the season. Henry could return for the season finale, which would be great as a warmup for the postseason. The All-Pro running back has been out since Week 8 after undergoing foot surgery. The Titans are 4-3 without him and the fact that they've stayed above water with their offensive superstar sideline is a testament to the rest of the roster.
Ryan Tannehill has taken a step back this season, struggling to find consistency in the passing game despite the offseason addition of Julio Jones. Tannehill has completed 66.7 percent of his passes for 3,327 yards, with 15 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. He's averaging 6.9 yards per attempt and his passer rating is a woeful 84.8, more than 20 points lower than last season (106.5).
It's not all Tannehill's fault, though. He's been sacked an NFL-high 45 times. The constant pressure he's faced has stunted Tennessee's passing attack. Meanwhile, A.J. Brown missed four weeks with a chest injury and Jones has missed six due to a persistent hamstring issue. Getting those guys back and getting the running game going should take the pressure off Tannehill.
If Brown and Jones can finally get healthy and Henry can come back and be the helmeted dump truck we all know and love, Tennessee is going to be dangerous to close the season. Even if Tannehill struggles, the team just has too many weapons for opposing defenses to shut down.
What we haven't mentioned is the defense. Tennessee ranks third in the NFL, allowing only 3.9 yards per carry, while only allowing 7.2 yards per attempt against the pass. The Titans are well-schooled on defense, and have the sixth-fewest missed tackles in the NFL. They rally to the ball and finish plays as well as any defense in the league. While not the best defense in the NFL, Tennessee has enough on that side of the ball to win in the postseason.
If Henry comes back at anything near full health, it will allow the Titans to pound the ball, control the clock and shorten games. Exactly the formula the franchise has used with such success in the past.
The Titans obviously need to get healthy, but if they do, they'll be a team no one wants to play down the stretch.