The afternoon started with boos raining down on him. It ended with cheers and jubilation being heaped upon him.
Such is a day in the life and career of Tennessee Titans’ quarterback Marcus Mariota.
From the day the second overall pick of the 2015 draft set foot in Nashville, has faced questions about his ability to be a franchise quarterback….and those questions grow louder as he approaches what could be a massive contract extension in the near future.
Mariota’s four-year stint in Tennessee has been a maddening mix of jaw-dropping highlight reel plays, head-scratching blunders, turnovers, and come from behind victories.
All of those traits were on full display today.
Mariota looked tight and skittish to open the game, and the offense as a whole looked like they were playing in quicksand. At one point in the first quarter Mariota had zero completions, 2 sacks taken, and an interception that was returned for a touchdown.
Tennessee found themselves down 16-0 in the blink of an eye and the hometown crowd let Mariota and company know the performance was unacceptable.
A touchdown drive late in the first half sparked Mariota and the offense, and the comeback kid switch was flipped.
The second half was a different story for the embattled qb, as he showed the one attribute that clouds the discussion regarding his ability to be “the guy”….
Handcuffed by untimely penalties from his offensive line, Mariota overcame those obstacles with his arm and legs and engineered four second half scoring drives.
The last being the go-ahead touchdown toss to Corey Davis with seconds left in the game, when the Titans were well inside of kicker Ryan Succop’s field goal range, and needing just three points to send the game to overtime.
After a horrid start, Mariota finished the day by completing 20 passes for 282 yards, 2tds, and a pick. He also chipped in 43 yards on the ground on just four attempts, and his 25 yard scramble on the final drive helped set up the game-winning score.
With Tennessee’s season, and possibly his reputation as a franchise guy on the line, Mariota showed grit, mental toughness, and the competitive spirit of a winner when there was no more room for error.
Just like he did against Jacksonville in last year’s regular season finale to secure a playoff berth. Just like he did the following week in the wild card round at Arrowhead Stadium when all seemed lost. Just like he did in overtime against the Eagles earlier this season.
The unquantifiable traits that supersede entering the game ranked 31st in touchdown passes (9).
It may not be aesthetically pleasing, and his ceiling may fall short of MVP candidate, but Mariota has proven that he can win at this level and lead a team into the playoffs with good complimentary pieces around him.
The Super Bowl, however? That’s still to be determined.
There’s plenty of work to be done for the Titans to return to the playoffs this year, and if it were to happen, it will have to be on the shoulders of the Marcus Mariota we saw in the second hald today.
First half Mariota won’t cut it against the Jaguars’ defense Thursday night.