Stick with me on this. I am not trying to defend one player and put down another. Think of this as more of a mental exercise. A chance to think about what could have been, even if that means things likely would have been different and probably worse.
I am a big fan of sci-fi movies where time travel is involved. Granted, they often don’t make a lot of sense, but the idea of going back in time, changing one thing, and then seeing how that change affects everything else going forward is fascinating to me. That’s sort of what I want to do today.
What if Cairo Santos doesn’t miss the kicks against the Colts and the Bills? That would mean, even after the debacle of the Denver game, even after Mariota played possibly the worst game of his career, the Titans would have been 4-2. Does Vrabel pull Mariota in that situation against the Broncos? Unlikely. That means, Ryan Tannehill doesn’t take over as the starter the following week against the Chargers. What would that mean for the rest of the season?
If you are a Mariota hater, you probably believe the team would lose every game from that point on and Mariota would only throw interceptions and complete less than 50% of his passes. Of course, those are all things he never did so that’s an obviously moronic opinion to have. Likely, we would have seen more of the same from Mariota. Some good games. Some average games. And some bad games. His mindset was off and the team would never have achieved the success it has achieved under Tannehill this season.
But, does that mean they would have been in a much worse place than they are now? I don’t know about that. If the starting point was 4-2 after the Denver game, it’s not unreasonable to believe they could go 4 and 3 in the next 7. Maybe they struggle as the bottom falls out for Marcus. Or, maybe he rebounds as he did so often in his career in Tennessee. We really don’t know.
The one thing we can know for certain is that no one saw this version of Ryan Tannehill coming. You could have been the biggest Tannehill supporter in the world, and you didn’t see this coming. This further proves that football is incredibly unpredictable. I read a lot of people talk about how if the Titans had just basic, competent QB play, they would be a playoff team. This team is still fighting for their playoff lives and they have gotten much more than “basic” and “competent” play from number 17. It’s taken off-the-charts QB play to get them to where they are.
The truth of the matter is, benching Marcus did more for this team than simply changing one position. It was a message to the entire team. One of the team captains was benched. The guy who had lead the team to the playoffs two years prior and won a game lost his starting job. That speaks volumes to the rest of the team, particularly the offense. I know some people want to put all the improved play on Tannehill but that’s not how these things work. Virtually everyone on offense has stepped up their game and I believe it took Mariota losing his job for that to happen.
Part of me is happy about it as we are seeing some of the best Titans football in decades. Part of me is sad that it took Mariota getting benched for it to happen. So, in a weird way, everyone who is enjoying this run should be thankful Santos couldn’t do his job. What if he could? Where would the Titans be right now?