The Tennessee Titans are now playing with house money

NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 31: Safety Kevin Byard
NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 31: Safety Kevin Byard /

The Tennessee Titans have accomplished what they set out to do, and now there is no more mounting pressure for the young team.

When incompetent head coach Ken Whisenhunt was fired during the 2015 season, a breath of fresh air was inhaled by every Tennessee Titans fan. When GM Ruston Webster was fired the following offseason, hope continued to build within every fan. The duo was nothing short of a disaster in Nashville. Poor personnel choices and a scheme that did not fit whatever talent was available resulted in some of the worst years of the Titans franchise.

The Titans brought in Jon Robinson, a former New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers front office man who had a background in scouting, to be the team’s new GM. They retained interim head coach Mike Mularkey and gave him a permanent title, opting for consistency and familiarity instead of making a splashy hire.

The team exceeded expectations in its first year under the direction of Robinson and Mularkey. A number of great draft picks, a change in culture within the locker room and the progression of QB Marcus Mariota resulted in a 9-7 season that almost came with a playoff berth.

In the second year of the new regime, expectations were sky high. The Titans were a popular pick to win the AFC South and earn a top-four seed in the conference. A string of unsettling performances throughout the season endangered even a playoff berth, with three straight losses after an 8-4 start casting doubt on Mularkey and the team as a whole.

We all know what happened next.

The Titans beat the fraudulent Jacksonville Jaguars for the second time this season, earned a Wild Card spot and came back from 18 points down to beat the Kansas City Chiefs in round one of the playoffs. No one gave the Titans a chance going into that game, but the Titans played a second half brand of football that hadn’t been seen in months.

Mularkey is still being questioned, and much of that is warranted, but the Titans have now gone 19-14 over the last two seasons and won a postseason game for the first time since 2004. Consider that this organization and team is still in the process of a rebuild–in year two of it, in fact–and it becomes abundantly clear that the team has already accomplished what it set out to do when Robinson and Mularkey took the reins.

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The Titans are not supposed to be where they are right now. They won three games just two years ago and a measly two games three years ago. They blew a chance to make the playoffs by losing to the Jaguars in 2016. They stumbled through a season with high expectations in 2017. And then they won a playoff game that they had no business winning.

This is a young team, and these growing pains are a part of the process.

Surely this is no time for the team to get complacent, but the Titans are far ahead of schedule in terms of usual rebuilding timelines. They have already become a dangerous playoff team, and they are one despite being in the second season of a complete turnaround in roster construction and team culture.

Whatever happens Saturday night matters. I won’t say it doesn’t. But Titans fans would’ve called you insane if you were tell them back in 2015 that they’d be playing the Patriots in the second round of the playoffs two years later. This team can only go up from here.