Mariota doing a bit of everything for Titans
By TERESA M. WALKER
The Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Titans linebacker Derrick Morgan says he kind of blacked out.
Everyone who stayed on the Tennessee sideline went crazy, celebrating.
As a group of teammates mobbed him, quarterback Marcus Mariota simply stood and looked back at them knowing he had helped the Titans to their first playoff victory in 14 years in his postseason debut.
The big play? Not his first touchdown pass, which he conveniently caught after it was batted back to him.
Or the big first downs he delivered with his legs.
No, this time Mariota delivered by putting his right shoulder into a linebacker, clearing space for Derrick Henry to run for the clinching first down to finish running out the clock on their rally from 18 points down to beat Kansas City 22-21 on Saturday.
“You don’t really see quarterbacks blocking and doing such a selfless play like that,” Morgan said Tuesday.
Mariota may be polite and as well-mannered as any parent’s dream. The Saint Louis School graduate is also a winner, and Tennessee’s third-year quarterback finally is healthy and leading the Titans to victories that matter.
He’s also showing off his versatility from catching the first TD pass he ever threw in a postseason game to running and even blocking to lead the Titans to an AFC divisional game in New England against the defending champs.
Pro Bowl left tackle Taylor Lewan said Mariota has made big plays two weeks in a row to fire up the Titans, including a stiff-arm while running to a big first down to clinch Tennessee’s playoff berth in the regular-season finale.
“It’s pretty awesome, especially as mild-mannered as he is,” Lewan said. “His competitive nature is bigger than anybody else’s in here, so I know he wants to win every single game, and we’re just here to help him do that.”
Mariota, 24, easily had his worst regular season yet in the NFL with more interceptions (15) than touchdown passes (13). But he ran for a career-high five touchdowns while playing through a hamstring injury that cost him one start in October.
Now Mariota gets his second chance at the Patriots and Tom Brady.
Mariota’s first trip to Foxborough did not go well at all in his rookie season.
The Patriots sacked him three times, and Mariota completed just three of six passes before having his season ended with a sprained knee in a loss Dec. 20, 2015.
These Patriots have won 11 of their past 12 games, and Brady led the NFL with 4,577 yards passing.
Mariota showed he’s as healthy as he’s been all season with a handful of highlight plays starting with a touchdown pass to himself when Darrelle Revis batted the ball back to Mariota, who ran toward the pylon to cap a 91-yard drive to jumpstart the Titans’ comeback.
Mariota also threw the game-winning TD to Eric Decker with 6:06 left for his fifth game-winning drive this season and ninth of his career.
“This guy is a physically tough player,” Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said of Mariota. “You definitely see that on film.”
Mariota ran eight times for 46 yards, twice on third down for first downs in the second half against the Chiefs.
And that block was the cap to a performance that let tight end Delanie Walker know his quarterback finally is healthy.
“When he wasn’t healthy, you wouldn’t see him run out of the pocket, juke people or anything like that,” Walker said.
“It just shows that he’s healthy. This is the Marcus that everyone knows. He’s been doing this in college, and now everyone just starting to see it because it’s prime-time, and we’re in the playoffs. At the end of the day, this is him.”