OAKLAND, Calif. -- If there was any doubt that A.J. Brown was the Tennessee Titans' most dangerous pass-catcher, there isn't anymore after Sunday's win over Oakland Raiders. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill and Brown had their best game together, with Brown finishing with a career-high 153 yards on five receptions.
The chemistry they are developing provides a big-play element that had been missing from the Titans' passing game.
"We are doing a really good job of handling our business," Brown said after the game. "Everybody is doing what they're supposed to do and we are rolling. This was a team win, not an individual win ... we've been working and trying to get it all together."
Tannehill's 391 passing yards was the second-highest total of his career (396 yards vs. Vikings on Dec. 12, 2014). Two of Tannehill's three touchdown passes went to Brown, who became the first rookie with 150 or more receiving yards and two touchdowns in a game since Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans did it in November 2014, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
Brown has emerged as a serious threat to create explosive plays by gaining yards after the catch. According to Next Gen Stats, Brown averaged 17.2 yards gained after the catch against the Raiders. Out of 102 players with at least 50 targets this season, Brown's 12.8 yards per target is the highest in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
Head coach Mike Vrabel pointed to Brown's great play strength and how the rookie wideout plays through the catch as a reason for his ability to pick up extra yards. Vrabel didn't hesitate to mention how Tannehill is throwing into tight windows and with anticipation.
"Ryan gave him a great ball, and [Brown] went up to and got it on the long one," Vrabel said.
Added Brown, "I just feel like, 'Throw the ball around me.' My job is to catch the ball. Just give me a chance. He's done a great job by hitting me in stride and giving me a great opportunity to run after the catch. When you get the ball in your hands, you have a lot of confidence. It's like a thrill. At least for me. I am trying to get my next catch after the first one."
The confidence is growing with each connection from Tannehill to Brown. Tannehill has a strong conviction that Brown and the other receivers will make aggressive plays on the ball leading to completions even when the coverage is close. That belief makes it more likely for Tannehill to fit the ball into tight windows.
The Tannehill-to-Brown connection has resulted in 506 yards and four touchdowns in the past seven games. Although the success of the offense starts with running back Derrick Henry, Brown's success provides balance for the Titans' offense. The explosive plays Brown generates gives Tennessee the perfect complement to Henry.
Henry has gained 599 yards and seven touchdowns in the past four games, reaching at least 100 rushing yards in each of them. Teams that focus on stopping Henry are starting to pay for it with big plays opening in the passing game. Tannehill's 91-yard touchdown pass on play-action is a great example.
Ryan Tannehill said he saw the safety (25) squat & A.J. Brown beat his man (20) for a 91-yd TD. Notice the attention that goes to Kalif Raymond's jet motion & EVERYONE flows to Derrick Henry's run fake. This is how Henry influences defenses. Nice call by Arthur Smith. #Titans pic.twitter.com/M6mhPDmWVb— TURRON DAVENPORT (@TDavenport_NFL) December 9, 2019
"A.J. ran a great route," Tannehill said. "We had play-action there. He beat his man and I saw the safety squat. Then I was able to put the ball up over the top."
Through 13 games, Brown leads the Titans in receptions (39), receiving yards (779) and receiving touchdowns (6). Even though Brown was the fourth wide receiver selected in his draft class, he's always felt like he would be a premier playmaker in the NFL.
"I believed in myself since Day 1," Brown said. "I just had to get the mental part down. I had a lot of confidence in myself coming into Day 1. I'll continue working and put my head down. I'd say the game started to slow down for me in Week 4 against the Falcons. Things slowed down for me a little bit and I told myself I could be something to really deal with in this league."