It seems like every game these days serves as a referendum on whether or not Marcus Mariota should be the Titans’ franchise quarterback. Such is life for the no. 2 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, now in his fourth year at the helm of the two-tone blue.
When he suffered an injury in week one he was “unreliable”. When he came off the bench in week three and gutted through the same injury to help the Titans win in Jacksonville, he was “a true leader”.
When Mariota led Tennessee to a dramatic overtime win over the defending Super Bowl champions he was “a QB on the rise”. When he then failed to lead a beat up and inexperienced unit to the end zone the next two weeks the talk became that he “just doesn’t have what it take.”
Well, over the last two games Mariota and the Titans have posted back to back season-highs for points in wins over the Cowboys and Patriots.
Let’s end the debate right here. Mariota should be the Titans quarterback moving forward.
Does he deserve Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers, or even Kirk Cousins, money? Probably not. But he doesn’t deserve all the doubt that keeps following him around.
When Mariota is healthy, as he appears to be following the bye week, he’s an upper level NFL quarterback. In the last two games he’s completing 70 percent of his passes, thrown four touchdowns to no interceptions and also ran for a score. That’s elite level stuff.
Over the last three weeks he leads all NFL quarterbacks in third down conversions, taking risks and finding receivers beyond the chains. He has the best mark of any QB in the red zone over the course of his career with 45 TD passes against one lone interception.
And, perhaps most importantly, this team rallies around him because he’s willing to do anything it takes to help them win. Look back to week 17 last year and his stiff arm of Jaguars safety Barry Church on a run that helped the Titans seal a win and clinch their first playoff berth in nine years. Or cue up the film to the next week when he rallied the team back from 18 down in the second half in Kansas City and then delivered the block that sprung Derrick Henry for the run that delivered Tennessee its first playoff win in 14 seasons.
Since the beginning of last year the 25-year-old Mariota has directed more game-winning drives in the fourth quarter and overtime than any other QB in the NFL. Perhaps no other stat in football demonstrates a quarterback’s value to his team than that.
Yes, he’s got to stay healthy. The injuries in each of his four pro seasons are concerning. And yes, he has to continue to grow and find a consistent level in new offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur’s system. But the Titans could do much, much worse than Mariota.
As ESPN analyst Tim Hasselbeck told myself and Darren McFarland Wednesday on 102.5 The Game, “think back to 2015 and the Draft, if the Bucs take Mariota no. 1, the Titans would have taken Jameis Winston.”
Who would you rather have right now?
If you’re still not convinced, consider the two quarterbacks the Titans selected in the first round of the Draft before Mariota. Vince Young flashed, but then quickly flamed out and disappeared from the NFL. Jake Locker had even less success. There’s no such thing as a guarantee when drafting a quarterback.
And the only established quarterbacks you will ever have a chance of landing in free agency or a trade won’t be on the superstar level, but will still command a hefty price tag like Cousins.
So let’s stop the debate. The Titans aren’t upgrading the quarterback position from Mariota.
It’s time to commit to him. He may never be Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, but if I’m the Titans, Marcus Mariota sounds way better than the alternative.