NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Ryan Tannehill has followed Drew Brees since he was still in high school. So Tannehill couldn’t miss watching at least a little bit as the Saints quarterback wrote his name into the NFL record book a couple of more times.
“Obviously, he was on fire,” Tannehill said of Brees. “Kind of a cool moment for him, a guy that I’ve respected for a long time as a person, as a player. … So to be able to see him break that record, he’s sustained success for a long period of time, and I was happy for him.”
That was Monday night. On Sunday, Tannehill and the Titans (8-6) get a chance at the Saints (11-3) with Brees having grabbed the NFL’s career touchdown pass record at 541. Brees also set the NFL mark for the highest completion rate in a single game, completing 29 of 30 passes for 96.7%.
This could be quite the show. It’s the first time since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978 that two starting quarterbacks with a passer rating of 114 or better have played this late in the season, though Patrick Mahomes and Philip Rivers came close last season in Week 15.
Brees is the league leader in both passer rating and completion percentage (115.3 rating and 75.8%) just ahead of Tannehill (114.6 rating and 71.5%). Brees and the Saints are chasing a first-round bye to go with their NFC South title.
Tannehill is 6-2 since taking over as the starter trying to help the Titans earn their second playoff berth in three seasons, which took a hit with a 24-21 loss to Houston last week.
Now with his second NFL team after being traded away by Miami in March, Tannehill is trying to earn a new contract after this season. Brees spent his first five seasons in San Diego before landing in New Orleans. Brees is in his 14th season with the Saints, and he said changing teams offers a fresh start.
“It’s kind of like reestablishing the foundation, but you’re also drawing on your experiences as a starting quarterback,” Brees said. “I mean, how many games did Ryan Tannehill start prior to arriving in Tennessee, a lot? He’s an experienced veteran quarterback, but yeah, new environment, new system and yet you’re bringing some experience and wisdom along with it and that’s a big deal.”
Saints coach Sean Payton says he’s been impressed with Tannehill’s decision-making in Tennessee and how quickly he’s getting the ball out, helped by the Titans’ run game and Pro Bowl running back Derrick Henry.
“You can see the confidence that he’s playing with,” Payton said. “I think he’s 6-2 now since he’s been their starter, so it’s pretty impressive to watch.”
MORE HISTORY LOOMING
Brees completed his final 22 passes in a 34-7 win over the Colts and he need only complete his first four passes against the Titans to set another NFL record for most consecutive completions. That mark currently is shared by Nick Foles, Philip Rivers and both Tennessee quarterbacks. Marcus Mariota, now on the bench, completed 25 straight over two games last November, while Tannehill had 25 straight completions for Miami over two games in October 2015.
Saints receiver Michael Thomas is closing in on his own NFL history.
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He’s had eight games this season with at least 10 catches, including the win over the Colts, for the most such games in a single season in NFL history. He leads the NFL with 133 catches and 1,552 yards. He needs only 11 catches to pass Marvin Harrison’s league record of 143 catches in 2002 for most in a single season.
NOT REVENGE GAME
The Saints drafted safety Kenny Vaccaro with the 15th pick overall in the 2013 draft, and he started 67 of 68 games for New Orleans over five seasons. When the Saints let him go as a free agent in 2018, Vaccaro remained unsigned until the Titans lost Johnathan Cyprien early in training camp. He signed a one-year deal, then earned a multi-year deal from Tennessee in March.
“I grew so much as a man the five years I was there, it’s exciting,” Vaccaro said. “I’m excited to see all those guys again.”
While Saints starting cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Eli Apple are healthy, that didn’t stop New Orleans from claiming former Giants starting cornerback Janoris “Jackrabbit” Jenkins off waivers this week. Jenkins, who was waived by the Giants after using an offensive word on social media, arrived in time for practice Wednesday. Jenkins has four interceptions, as many as free safety Marcus Williams, who led the Saints in that department before Jenkins’ arrival.
Titans wide receiver A.J. Brown leads all rookies with 893 yards receiving this season and also has four 100-yard receiving games. With two games left, he could become the first NFL rookie with five 100-yard receiving games since Amari Cooper in 2015 with Oakland.
The Saints are trying to adapt along the defensive line after two former first-round draft choices — end Marcus Davenport and tackle Sheldon Rankins — had season-ending injuries two games ago. The defense had just one sack last week, a big drop from two weeks earlier when the Saints had nine in Atlanta.
“You talk about what he’s been able to do as far as extending plays but looking downfield, he looks like he’s more poised than he was in Miami,” Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Jordan said of Tannehill.