In the 17 days since the Tennessee Titans had last played, the team was scrutinized by many and vilified by plenty.
Having had to have their Week 4 game versus the Pittsburgh Steelers pushed back to later in the season and their Week 5 contest against the Buffalo Bills moved to Tuesday, a wave of positive COVID-19 tests for the Titans created a wave of schedule changes in the NFL and there was ample ill will directed at Tennessee.
"We were under a lot of heat. Honestly, I didn't quite understand it, why we under such heat, but we stuck together," Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill said following his four-touchdown performance in the Titans' 42-16 win on Tuesday. "We've been under some heat for a couple of weeks and it felt good to be able to go out and play and shake that off."
While some, if not many, might have colored Tannehill's Titans as villains, his squad certainly doesn't see Tannehill in any kind of negative light.
Captaining an offense most often riding the bullish legs and broad shoulders of Derrick Henry, Tannehill has begun his first season as the Titans starting quarterback after taking over the reins last year for Marcus Mariota -- a year ago to the day from the team's triumphant Tuesday -- and it's clear as the Titans emerged from an unprecedented run of obstacles and tribulations that Tannehill is the the 4-0 Titans' leader through and through.
"He's the general. He's the head man in charge," second-season receiver A.J. Brown said following the game. "He leads us, he's a great leader."
On a very long-awaited Tuesday night for the Titans in which they resumed their season and continued an undefeated start, Tannehill was stellar, completing 21 of 28 passes for 195 yards -- pedestrian by today's NFL standards -- three touchdowns, no interceptions, a 129.3 QB rating and an additional score with 42 yards via the ground. So far this season, Tannehill has nine touchdowns to just one interception with 1,004 yards passing.
In a league overflowing with gaudy quarterback statistics, Tannehill will hand off to Henry 30 times in an AFC Divisional Round upset win and find scrutiny for having just 14 attempts. But he is whomever the Titans need under center.
During last year's improbable playoff run, Tannehill's Titans upended Tom Brady's Patriots and Lamar Jackson's Ravens. Those are quarterbacks with more notable names and loftier numbers than Tannehill, but had longer offseasons. And, many forget he held his own against the magnificent Patrick Mahomes in an AFC Championship Game loss.
Bills QB Josh Allen came in to Tuesday with plenty of richly deserved praise and momentum based on a bevy of splendid stats. He finished the night with more yards than Tannehill, too, but was the losing QB.
After such a trying two weeks and change for the Titans, Tannehill is no doubt the leader as they've emerged victorious and that's what looms largest for this band of undefeateds -- outlaws to some, leaders of the AFC South to all.
"Ryan's a really good quarterback. He might not come out and throw for like 500 or whatnot, like other guys," Brown said. "We're not here for individual stats. We're here to compete as a unit, go out and do it as a unit. Whenever we have a big game, who cares if he don't throw for 500, as long as we get the win, we do what needs to be done, all that matters, that's the only thing that matters."
When asked after the win what Tannehill has showcased on the one-year anniversary of taking over for Mariota last season, Mike Vrabel didn't glow about his athleticism or arm strength and ability. No, he was simple in his compliment.
"He's led," Vrabel said, "he's been a great leader."