Year of the Rat? Titans embrace Vrabel’s label

Friday, January 17, 2020, Vol. 44, No. 3

Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill celebrates his touchdown run against the Ravens on Saturday.

-- Photo By Julio Cortez | Ap Photo

The Tennessee Titans are the most improbable of the four teams left standing in the NFL playoffs.

It isn’t a real big surprise that their opponent, the Kansas City Chiefs, are playing for the right to represent the AFC in Super Bowl LIV in Miami in two weeks.

And it’s no shock that the top two seeds, San Francisco and Green Bay, will meet for the NFC Championship.

But the Titans? They barely squeezed in the back door of the postseason, claiming the last seed on the final week of the regular season when the Houston Texans chose not to play several of their starters, including Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins.

But no matter how they qualified for the playoffs, the 9-7 Titans aren’t apologizing for crashing the party. In fact, they’re relishing it.

Coach Mike Vrabel even has a term for the Titans that captures the spirit of what he wants out of his team and how they approach each game, practice and meeting.

Vrabel’s term – “street rats” – is not exactly flattering – but it fits the 2019 Titans their approach to playing football.

“That’s a little thing Coach Vrabs likes to use when he sees a lot of effort out there on that field,” linebacker Kamalei Correa explained after the Titans’ shocking 28-12 upset in Baltimore that sent the team to the AFC title game.

OK, but what does it mean?

“It’s just a guy who’s gritty, who likes to throw his body around, make plays and sacrifice for the team,” Correa explains.

“It’s really for the greater good of the team – offense, defense and special teams and the coaches, too, with the way they call the game.”

Tight end Jonnu Smith, who caught the Titans first touchdown in the 28-12 win over the Ravens, says the term was first used to describe a Titans player who is no longer on the 53-man roster and soon spread throughout the locker room.

“It actually started with Malcolm Butler,’’ Smith says of the cornerback who broke a wrist Nov. 3 and was placed in injured reserve. “That’s just the tenacity he plays with. From that point on, that was just the identity he wanted for this team.

“We joke about it all the time, but it’s true. We’re not the house cats, we’re the street rats. It was a term that Coach Vrabs gave Malcolm Butler with just the way he plays, it was evident because he’s aggressive.

“But it’s something we’ve all taken to.”

That is true from the biggest superstar in Derrick Henry all the way down to the role players at the back end of the roster.

Guard Rodger Saffold, who came to the Titans as a free agent from the Rams, explained a bit about the street rat’s attitude as well.

“I think that term just means we’re grimy, we’re playing hard and we scratch and claw for every inch we have. That’s a guy that plays selfless,” Saffold said.

Tennessee’s “street rats” are – to no one’s surprise – a big underdog on the road for the third straight week with the Chiefs opening as a 7.5-point favorite. The Patriots were favored by 5, and the Ravens by 10 in the first two playoff games.

“It just speaks volumes on what kind of guys we have in the locker room,’’ Correa said. “We’re hungry and we’re gritty. Every day, we grind. We’re not favored. We’re always underdogs, but we like it like that.

“We’re street rats. That’s what we call ourselves. And we grind and the product shows out there on the field.”