NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee coach Mike Vrabel says that quarterback Ryan Tannehill is doing “good” and progressing a day after leaving the stadium with a fourth straight victory and his right foot in a walking boot.
The first test will come Wednesday for Tannehill, and several other banged-up Titans. All eyes are on Tannehill, who has yet to miss a start since becoming Tennessee's starter in mid-October 2019, posting a 36-18 record in the regular season.
“We need everybody, and the quarterback is vital to the execution," Vrabel said Monday when asked how much tougher practice could be without the starting quarterback. “And we’ll continue to see where Ryan is, and we’ll get everybody ready that we feel like needs to get ready.”
Tannehill is a big reason the Titans (4-2) have rebounded from an 0-2 start to the top of the AFC South they're trying to win for a third straight season. Their 19-10 victory over Indianapolis capped a second straight sweep of their divisional rival.
Tannehill hurt his ankle on the opening play of the fourth quarter and missed only one snap.
The other option for Sunday's visit to Houston (1-4-1) is rookie Malik Willis with Logan Woodside on the practice squad. Willis had three snaps against the Colts, two coming with the Titans trying to rev up the offense and tap the rookie's legs. Neither has started an NFL game.
The Titans are healing up on defense, and it's showing. Linebacker Bud Dupree and safety Amani Hooker both returned from injuries against the Colts. Tennessee held Jonathan Taylor to 58 yards with the Colts managing only 65 yards rushing overall. The Titans now rank fourth in the NFL against the run.
Tennessee also has forced 10 turnovers overall, including three apiece in sweeping the Colts this season. The Titans have failed to force at least one turnover only once, and that was in their Week 2 loss in Buffalo.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The offense. Two-time NFL rushing champ Derrick Henry is doing his best to literally carry Tennessee's offense, but this offense has been outscored 81-20 after halftime this season. But Willis couldn't get the ball from Tannehill on an end-around, leading to a fumble.
The Titans finally got their first points in the fourth quarter in their sixth game. They had to settle for two of Randy Bullock's four field goals, and thanks to Henry held the ball for 9:40 of the final 15 minutes to seal the win.
Austin Hooper. The tight end seemed set for a big season considering how quickly Hooper clicked with Tannehill during the offseason and training camp. Then the tight end went missing after catching only one of five passes thrown to him in a Week 2 loss in Buffalo.
Hooper caught all three passes thrown to him in the second half against the Colts for 56 yards for his best game this season. Two converted third downs and helped set up Tennessee's first points in the fourth quarter this season on a pair of field goals by Bullock.
Cornerback Caleb Farley. The first-round pick of 2021 played only two snaps against Indianapolis, none on defense.
Enough Titans played through issues that Vrabel might ease up the practice schedule. But Tannehill is the most crucial. Entering Monday, he currently is tied for ninth in the NFL — with Tom Brady — with a 92.8 passer rating. Tannehill has started 54 straight games, including the playoffs, since becoming the Titans' starting quarterback.
3 — The Titans currently are plus-3 in the takeaway-giveaway category. The defense scored 10 points off two turnovers in the second quarter for a 13-0 halftime lead.
Hit the road again for the first of back-to-back games away from Tennessee, this time to Houston for a second straight divisional game.
This will be the first time since Vrabel's first season in 2018 that the Titans haven't concluded the season in Houston where they clinched the AFC South each of the past two seasons, including the AFC's No. 1 seed there in January, along with a wild-card berth with a win there in the 2019 regular-season finale.
It's a must-win with a trip to Kansas City in prime time looming on Nov. 6.
Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker
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