Mariota’s return to running has delighted Titans
By TERESA M. WALKER
The Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie might have been the happiest person at practice watching quarterback Marcus Mariota look like, well, Mariota.
The Saint Louis School graduate brushed aside a safety with a stiff-arm on his way to a big run.
When Mariota is running, the Titans are usually all smiles because their offense shows signs of life.
“That’s what we know he’s capable of doing, and when he’s capable of doing that, it helps our offense again I’ll tell you probably 80 percent,” Robiskie said Wednesday. “I hate to say that, but if he can’t do that or he’s in position that he can’t do that or that don’t happen, we’re not the offense we’re trying to be.”
Mariota ran a career-high 10 times for a season-high 60 yards Sunday to help the Titans earn their first playoff berth since 2008 with a 15-10 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. Better yet, teammates saw a swagger in Mariota as he got off the ground and stared down a defender to make them confident their quarterback is feeling good, possibly even as he did before a broken right leg ended his 2016 season a game early.
“That’s old Marcus, before the injury,” Pro Bowl defensive lineman Jurrell Casey. “That’s him. This is the Marcus I been waiting to see — him using them legs and making things happen. We need to see that more out of him going forward.”
Titans coach Mike Mularkey loved Mariota’s body language, and now the Titans (9-7) need their quarterback who won the 2014 Heisman Trophy to keep running Saturday when they visit Kansas City (10-6) for an AFC wild-card game.
“We’re at that point right now when every man needs to do whatever he can, whatever it takes, to make this thing go,” Mularkey said. “It was good to see what he did the other night. Obviously, it helped us win the football game. I think it helped him gain a little confidence too that he can do more.”
An NFL quarterback needing a confidence boost sounds unusual, but Mariota’s third season with the Titans has easily been his worst statistically with a career-low 13 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Mariota has a career-high five TDs rushing, but the quarterback who missed six quarters in October with a strained left hamstring had his lowest average per carry yet at 5.2 yards per attempt.
The Titans dropped from third in the NFL in rushing last season to 15th this season.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid has seen enough of Mariota after the quarterback led a game-winning drive late last season to know they have to be careful when he starts running.
“You don’t ever get tricked by that kind of speed that he has,” Reid said. “When he kicks that thing into overdrive, he can go, so you have to stay very disciplined with him. That will be one of the challenges for my defense.”
Mariota, who converted four first downs with his legs in the fourth quarter Sunday, said he just took advantage of how Jacksonville was playing the Titans. Mariota says running came partially from feeling better and simple necessity.
“At this point in time, every guy is probably not going to feel 100 percent,” Mariota said. “It’s just that time of the year. With the magnitude of these games, you’ve got to win these games. You’re going to find a way to make a play and hopefully help your team win.”
Mariota has heard a lot from friends and fans on how he stiff-armed Jaguars safety Barry Church. So does he think he has his “swagger” back just in time for his NFL playoff debut?
“It was just me being me,” Mariota said. “Again, I’m going to do whatever it takes to win. This is the time in the season where you’ve just got to lay it all on the line.”
All times HST
Tennessee at Kansas City, 11:35 a.m. (ESPN/ABC)
Atlanta at L.A. Rams, 3:15 p.m. (NBC)
Buffalo at Jacksonville, 8:05 a.m. (CBS)
Carolina at New Orleans, 11:40 a.m. (FOX)
Saturday, Jan. 13
New Orleans/Carolina/Atlanta at Philadelphia, 11:35 a.m. (NBC)
Kansas City/Tennessee/Buffalo at New England, 3:15 p.m. (CBS)
Sunday, Jan. 14
Jacksonville/Kansas City/Tennessee at Pittsburgh, 8:05 a.m. (CBS)
L.A. Rams/New Orleans/Carolina at Minnesota, 11:40 a.m. (FOX)