At long last, the Tennessee Titans‘ 9-7 curse is over.
By beating the Lions on Sunday, the Titans moved to 10-4 on the season, guaranteeing that the organization’s streak of posting 9-7 records will end at four years.
“I credit everybody in this organization to be able to accomplish this,” RB Derrick Henry said of the milestone.
Though the 2020 Titans do have some clear weaknesses, the team has clear strengths that have allowed it to surpass its four 9-7 predecessors.
The 2020 #Titans will NOT finish 9-7. The streak is over at four years. At least 10 wins and likely more for this year’s team.
— Luke Worsham (@luke_worsham) December 20, 2020
The biggest reason that the Titans broke their 9-7 curse is that, for the first time in over a decade, the team started the season fast.
Heading into a Week Seven matchup with the then-undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers, the Titans were 5-0.
And, though the next month proved to be bumpy for the Titans, that undefeated start to the season allowed them enough breathing room to turn in a clunker or two without major ramifications.
It also has prevented the Titans from having to go on miracle win streaks or rely on help from other teams.
In true Belichick fashion, the Titans obsess over the “control what you can control” mantra.
“We have tunnel vision,” Henry said.
“We can’t control all the outside stuff. We can only control what we can control.”
Their fast start to the season gives them the chance to actually do that. To invoke one of the biggest cliches in sports (it’s necessary, here), the Titans control their own destiny.
Mike Vrabel: There was some good things and I thought we finished the game well #Titans
— AtoZSports Nashville (@AtoZSports) December 20, 2020
The Titans’ fast start to the 2020 season was mostly thanks to the team’s powerful offense, another major difference between this year’s team and the quartet of 9-7 squads.
The term “elite” gets thrown around often in the sports world, often hyperbolically. The Titans’ offense, though, is worthy of that tag.
And, though, the 2019 Titans did boast a high-powered offense during the second half of the season, the 2020 Titans’ offense has been on fire since the moment the season kicked off.
In just about every major offensive metric, the Titans’ fall within the NFL’s top five. In terms of yards per game, the Titans are second only to Patrick Mahomes’ Kansas City Chiefs.
It isn’t hard to see why. This is a unit that is the antithesis of a one-trick pony, which makes it nearly impossible for defenses to prepare to play the Titans.
Sure, Derrick Henry is sensational and the most critical element to the Titans’ offensive success, but he isn’t doing it alone.
“That’s what makes us dangerous—the fact that we can switch it up.
“I’m really happy and thankful for the guys that we have,” QB Ryan Tannehill said. “That way, we can spread the ball around and defenses can’t really key in on one area of the game or one player. You have to defend the whole field.”
The list of ways that the Titans’ offense can successfully attack a defense, as Tannehill suggested, is a long one.
Tannehill is putting up MVP-caliber numbers. He accounted for five total touchdowns on Sunday to bring his season total to 35.
Receivers A.J. Brown and Corey Davis each will likely finish the season with over 1,000 receiving yards. The Titans’ tight ends, a group led by Jonnu Smith and Anthony Firkser, have been red-zone and third-down machines.
Even the weakest element of the Titans’ offense, pass protection, has been more-than-passable. Tannehill consistently has plenty of time to go through his reads and step up to make downfield throws.
BEATING BAD TEAMS
The Titans’ offensive prowess would all be for naught, though, if the team had not finally mastered the art of defeating bad teams.
Over head coach Mike Vrabel’s first two years as the Titans’ head coach, it wasn’t uncommon for the team to soundly defeat a top-tier team before immediately suffering a maddening loss at the hands of a team bound for a losing record and a coaching change.
Now, the Titans beat the teams they’re supposed to beat.
Save the team’s disappointing Week Eight loss to Cincinnati, the Titans have made a habit in 2020 of not just beating far inferior opponents, but squashing them.
“They realize that you can be beaten by anybody in this league,” Vrabel said of his team. “We remind them that records don’t mean anything.”
When you combine a fast start to the season with a high-flying offense and the ability to beat inferior opponents, you’re going to get a pretty good football team that’s in a highly favorable position to end the season.
That’s exactly where the 10-4 Titans currently find themselves.
Understandably, the Titans didn’t want to take a victory lap after earning their 10th win of the season and ending the 9-7 curse. After all, there are no trophies for a 10-win season, and the Titans still don’t have their division locked up.
“Hopefully, we don’t spend a whole lot of time talking about 10 wins,” Vrabel said. “That’s not what anybody is here for.”
However, a 10th win is a big accomplishment for this franchise. It may not be worthy of a victory lap, but it’s worthy of recognition and praise.
If they keep playing as well as they have been, the 2020 Titans will eventually hit a milestone that is worthy of a victory lap.
Cover image: Christopher Hanewinckel