NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Because of the COVID-19 outbreak the team is facing, the Tennessee Titans will have a chance in their next game to show everyone just how mentally tough they really are.
As of Wednesday morning, four Titans players and five staff members tested positive for the coronavirus, leading to the team canceling in-person meetings until the end of the week NFL announcing the postponement of the team’s upcoming game against the Steelers to either Monday or Tuesday.
It’s unclear how many times the Titans will get to practice, if at all, before playing Pittsburgh, but it’s certain that the preparation regimen players are used to will be significantly altered.
“It’s a very unfortunate situation, but one that we’re confident we’ll be able to handle safely with the team and the players’ best interest in mind,” head coach Mike Vrabel said.
All of those challenges will put the Titans’ self-proclaimed formidable mental toughness to the test.
“It’s definitely going to be a test. We didn’t choose to be in this situation, but it’s the hand we were dealt,” QB Ryan Tannehill said. “I think we have mentally strong guys who are up for the task at hand. We have to be able to prepare for a game in an unusual situation.”
“PROBABLY THE MOST UNIQUE WEEK I’VE HAD”
— AtoZSports Nashville (@AtoZSports) September 30, 2020
The hand that COVID-19 has dealt the Titans is an unenviable one. The obstacles the team will face go beyond just the potential of missed practice time.
NFL players are creatures of habit. Almost all of them are used to, barring injury, practicing three times leading up to a game, nearly without exception on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
That schedule, though, has already been tossed out of the window.
“This is going to be a unique week, probably the most unique week I’ve had since I’ve been in the league,” safety Kevin Byard said.
“Not being able to be on the field is going to be a challenge, but, at the same time, it’s a challenge that we invite.”
To make matters worse, all of this is happening for the Titans ahead of an already-difficult matchup.
The Steelers, like the Titans, are one of seven remaining unbeaten teams in the NFL. They’ve got a QB on his way to the Hall of Fame, an uber-athletic defense and scary offensive weapons, particularly WR JuJu Smith-Schuster.
“We have to get ourselves ready to go play a game and play it well against a really good team,” Tannehill said. “We have a difficult task at hand, but I’m excited about the challenge.”
“THERE’S NO QUIT”
Mental toughness and overcoming adversity are something the Titans should be built for if they’re as mentally tough as they’ve repeatedly said they are.
Following each of the 3-0 Titans’ first three wins of the 2020 season, all of which came thanks to gutsy fourth-quarter performances, players and coaches raved about the team’s abilities to stay focused, not quit and find a way when it mattered most.
“They know how to find ways to win right now, that’s a testament to them,” Vrabel said after the Titans’ Week Three win over Minnesota. “There’s no panic.”
RB Derrick Henry shared similar thoughts.
“We just keep pushing, keep fighting, sticking together,” he said. “There’s no quit in this team.”
Now, the team is facing will likely be its toughest mental test of the year.
“WE’LL BE READY”
Asked Tannehill if all the craziness is going to put the #Titans‘ mental toughness to the test: “It’s definitely going to be a test. We didn’t choose to be in this situation, but it’s the hand we’re dealt. I think we have mentally strong guys who are up to the task at hand.”
— Luke Worsham (@luke_worsham) September 30, 2020
What’s happened to the Titans is unfortunate, especially for those players and staff members who are dealing with symptoms from the virus. In the midst of the bad, though, there’s an opportunity.
Being able to buckle down, roll with the punches and come out of their Week Four game, whenever it gets played, with a win would be a massive victory for the Titans.
It would also allow the Titans to prove to the world and themselves that they are indeed a team with a high level of mental toughness and, perhaps, give them the momentum they need to earn a division title and, hopefully for them, much more than that.
“We’re not going to use that as any sort of excuse going in. We’ll be ready, we’ll be focused,” Vrabel said.
Cover image: Brad Rempel / USA Today