The Tennessee Titans selected quarterback Marcus Mariota with the second overall pick in last year’s draft, and since that day there has been an ongoing love affair between the qb, the franchise, and the city of Nashville.
Mariota’s aw’ shucks humility and southern gentleman mannerisms struck an immediate cord with the Music City, who is also known as one of the friendliest places to visit.
On the field, Mariota’s record-setting rookie debut sealed the deal for Titans fans. After failed attempts with Vince Young, Jake Locker, and Zach Mettenberger, the team finally had a quarterback and face of the franchise they could rally behind.
Even as the Titans limped to a 3-13 finish last year, Mariota’s name was never included in the backlash from it.
It was former head coach Ken Whisenhunt…the offensive line…the receivers…and the running backs. (all true too, by the way)
If you asked the fans, Mariota was the real deal. A one man show that needed help.
This offseason help was added. The offensive line was retooled and the running back and wide receiver position was upgraded.
With new weapons surrounding him, 2016 was projected to be a big year for Mariota by local and national pundits.
In the season opener, however, Mariota’s two second half turnovers were so costly that it literally cost Tennessee a game they were dominating.
And for the first time in his professional career, he was being questioned and criticized by the same fan base that vigorously defended him the year before.
Thoughts of…”here we go again”…”same ole Titans”…and “maybe Mariota is a bust…you see what Jameis Winston did this week?” flooded local sports call-in shows after the game.
Needless to say, all eyes were on Mariota in the days leading up to Sunday’s matchup with the Lions.
Everyone (including myself) wondered how he would respond to a week of adversity…a week of hearing questions about his ability to be a franchise qb.
After committing another turnover and failing to move the offense for three quarters yesterday, Mariota responded with a gut-check fourth quarter effort.
The Titans overcame a 15-3 fourth quarter deficit behind Mariota’s two late touchdown strikes. One to tight end Delanie Walker and the game-winner to Andre Johnson, his only reception of the day.
Mariota led the offense on a 13 play game-winning drive, culminated by Johnson’s nine yard td grab on fourth down…putting the Titans up for good at 16-15 with 1:13 remaining in the game.
Tennessee is now 1-1, second in the division and one game behind 2-0 Houston.
As for Mariota, his game-winning fourth quarter heroics restored the faith of the locals, and it looks like his ongoing honeymoon with the fans will continue after all.