When the Tennessee Titans lost 16-0 to the Denver Broncos on Oct. 13, they slipped to 2-4 and starting quarterback Marcus Mariota was benched.
At that point, Ryan Tannehill leading the Titans to a playoff spot wasn’t a storyline on anyone’s radar.
A few months later, the Titans are not only going to the playoffs, they could be a tough out for the New England Patriots in the wild-card round. The Titans won their seventh game in Tannehill’s 10 starts, beating a Houston Texans team that had nothing to play for and rested several key starters. The Titans clinched the final wild-card spot in the AFC with the 35-14 win. They will face the Patriots in Foxborough on Jan. 4 at 8:15 p.m. ET.
Of the 12 quarterbacks who will start in the NFL playoffs, Tannehill has to be the most unlikely name on the list.
Ryan Tannehill had a brilliant year
Tannehill took over for Mariota and played like one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks over the next 10 games.
Tannehill played well again on Sunday. He hit A.J. Brown, an NFL offensive rookie of the year candidate, for a 51-yard score. Tannehill hit a scrambling, cross-body throw to MyCole Pruitt for a 1-yard touchdown.
Another brilliant pass and catch from Tannehill to Brown put the game away. Early in the fourth quarter, holding a 21-14 lead, Tannehill dropped a beautiful 47-yard pass to Brown on the sideline. Derrick Henry scored a 1-yard touchdown on the next play. Tannehill finished the regular season with a sterling 22-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He has reinvented himself after not panning out as a high first-round pick of the Miami Dolphins, and has done so right before he becomes a free agent.
It was mostly decided after Brown’s catch and Henry’s score. The Titans were moving onto the playoffs. The Steelers and Raiders were eliminated. Henry’s third touchdown, a 53-yard scamper, was the victory lap.
Titans could present a challenge for Patriots
The Titans seemed to be in some trouble after a Week 15 loss to the Texans, but the Steelers kept losing. When Pittsburgh’s offense ran out of gas late in the season, that opened up the final spot in the AFC.
The Titans just needed to win on Sunday to get that last spot. Ironically, the Texans clinching the AFC South title a week before benefitted them for Week 17. The Texans had nothing to play for by kickoff Sunday, and coach Bill O’Brien did the smart thing and rested his starters.
And it was still a challenge. The Titans seemed to be in control when Henry scored a touchdown to make it 21-7, but AJ McCarron scored for the Titans to cut Houston’s deficit to 21-14. The Titans answered right back, and Henry’s second touchdown pushed the lead back to two scores.
The Titans are a dangerous team. Tannehill has had a career renaissance away from the Dolphins and Adam Gase. Henry is a tremendous, powerful back. Brown has developed into an explosive playmaker. Tennessee has a solid defense and coach Mike Vrabel, a former Patriots linebacker, is quite familiar with New England.
Usually the Patriots roll over their first playoff opponent every year. Given New England’s struggles and the ability of the Titans, it might not be so easy this postseason.
– – – – – – –
More from Yahoo Sports: