Mariota Shows Guts, Leads Titans Past Nemesis

Posted at 12:11 AM, Oct 17, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-17 09:00:33-04

After missing last week's loss in Miami, Marcus Mariota had had enough. Despite being limited in practice all week, the Titans' quarterback was ready for the showcase of Monday Night Football and guided them to a 36-22 win over the nemesis Colts.

It was a watershed victory for the franchise, which snapped an 11-game losing streak against Indianapolis that dates back nearly six full years to October 30th, 2011. And it was a game that solidified Mariota as the face of the franchise.

Call it his Steve McNair moment.

When Mariota suffered the strained hamstring in Houston two weeks ago and had to leave the game some fans called him injury prone, forced to miss action for a third straight season since entering the NFL. When he missed the team's offensively inept 16-10 loss to the Dolphins last week others bemoaned his toughness, claiming that McNair would've gutted his way through the injury to help the team.

People close to the Titans will tell you those criticisms are unfair because the injuries have all been different in nature and how they occurred, and because Mariota is one of the toughest, hardest working players on the team.

One week later Mariota displayed that toughness by playing while nowhere near 100 percent, flat out refusing to run the football or scramble on his bum leg. Instead, he stood in the pocket and showed the ability to dissect a defense with his arm alone, completing 23 of 32 passes for 306 yards, including a 53-yard touchdown strike to rookie receiver Taywan Taylor with 5:29 to play.

There he was on the game's opening possession driving the Titans to the first of three first half field goals. Ryan Succop connecting from 48 yards out to set a new NFL record with his 47th consecutive made field goal from inside 50 yards. Succop would go on to extend the record mark to 51, kicking four more field goals as the Titans failed to dent the end zone though their first seven possessions.

So there again was Mariota late in the third quarter with Tennessee trailing 19-15 against a team it hadn't beaten since his freshman year at Oregon, finding another gear to his game to deliver perhaps the signature performance of his young career by leading the Titans to three consecutive touchdown marches.

He went 8-8 for 76 yards on the first possession, driving the Titans from their own 13-yard line down to the Indy three before DeMarco Murray capped the 15-play drive by plowing in for the go-ahead touchdown.

After the Colts tied the game with a field goal, Mariota went back to work. He hit Eric Decker on back to back plays for 10 and 11 yards respectively, before stepping up in the pocket on a play-action pass and hitting Taylor in stride for what proved to be the game-winning score.

Wesley Woodyard stopped Jacoby Brissett's fourth and one quarterback bootleg short of the first down marker with just over 2:00 to go and Derrick Henry put it away with a 72-yard touchdown run in the final minute.

The Indy losing streak is over, finally, and the Titans are back in a first place tie in the AFC South.

Most importantly, their star QB is back. And make no mistake, Mariota is a star.

He impressed with a 62 percent completion percentage and 19 touchdowns against just 10 interceptions on a bad team as a rookie, and built on that with 3,426 yards passing and 26 touchdowns last year while leading the Titans within a hair of their first playoff berth since 2008.

This is supposed to be the year they get over the hump. And Monday night it once again looked like that's a possibility thanks to Mariota's heroics.

In the final 18:25 Monday night, Mariota went 11-11 for 150 yards and a touchdown while leading the Titans to 21 points, ending a lengthy losing streak against their biggest rival. And he did it all while playing basically on one leg.  

The talent has been clear since day one. Now we know he has the guts as well.