FOXBORO — Someone out there in cyberspace already purchased a non-refundable ticket to Kansas City for a Patriots second-round playoff game, based on two words and one set of numbers: Ryan Tannehill, 0-6.
Two words for you, and you know who you are: Dumb decision.
Tannehill went 0-6 with the Dolphins at Gillette Stadium, site of Saturday's 8:15 p.m. kickoff, pitting his new team, the Titans, against the defending Super Bowl champions.
Yet, it's a new and improved Tannehill who is triggering a potent offense that ranks among the league's best on the ground and through the air since Titans coach Mike Vrabel benched Marcus Mariota in favor of Tannehill. The Titans are 7-3 since the move. By now, most with an interest in the Patriots are aware that Tannehill's the NFL's highest-rated passer (117.5) and has the league's highest yards per attempt (9.6).
Still, he's 0-6 at Gillette and the forecast calls for snow, so none of those other numbers matter in the minds of many.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick's response to a question about Tannehill's improvement might sound like purely coach speak, but after reading it, consider how well the quarterback's history vs. the Patriots backs up Belichick's words.
* Well, I think he's been a good quarterback throughout his career,” Belichick said. * He's an athletic guy. He's very smart, can handle things at the line of scrimmage and make adjustments and so forth. He's athletic, has a good arm. He's played well for the Titans, but played well in Miami, too.”
Especially against the Patriots, despite the 0-6 record at Gillette.
Toss out his first three starts vs. the Patriots, all losses, all played before he had enough experience to know what he was doing as an NFL quarterback, and what is left is a 4-4 record, 4-3 in games when Brady was the opposing starter.
Tannehill reached the 300-yard milestone in five of the past eight games vs. the Pats. His totals: a 64.5 completion percentage, 8.2 yards per attempt, 13 touchdown passes, eight interceptions, one lost fumble. He threw for 2,313 yards in a half season worth of games. And all that came before he found the perfect fit for his myriad skills when the Dolphins foolishly gave up on him and dealt him to the Titans for a sixth-round draft choice.
Tannehill makes all the throws and doesn't make as many mistakes as he did in his early years.
* Yeah, he throws a good deep ball,” Belichick said. * He throws a lot of intermediate routes. They have a lot of catch-and-run plays, too. So, I mean a lot of their big plays are not 80-yard bombs. But, he's thrown the ball very accurately and is making great decisions.”
Of all the potential landing spots mentioned for Brady, an impending free agent, Tennessee is the most absurd. Why would the Titans let Tannehill, 31 and also a free agent, get away in his prime to sign a QB who will be 43?
Tannehill could be a modern-day Rich Gannon, a late bloomer who earned his first of four Pro Bowl appearances at the age of 34 with his fourth organization, the Raiders, and was named MVP at age 37.
Not everyone seems to grasp what a stiff challenge the Patriots face in taming a Titans offense that has averaged 30.4 points in Tannehill's 10 starts.
If you're not buying that Tannehill can end his Gillette futility and the Pats' 10-game home playoff winning streak, you're far from alone. The line that opened at Patriots by 4 points has moved to 5 points, and 57% of the public is betting on the Pats, according to BetOnline.ag.
Wagers aside, there is no denying that if the Patriots advance to face a great quarterback in Kansas City (Patrick Mahomes), they first must defeat a very good one at Gillette.