The Tennessee Titans aren't winning any titles this season, but fans still have to be excited watching rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota.
Even with question marks on the offensive line, at receiver and the entire defense, Mariota carried the Titans to a dramatic 42-39 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, showcasing all of the skills that excited scouts before being drafted. Some might consider this a meaningless win in a lost season, but in reality this game represents a big boost for the future of the organization.
Mariota finished the game 20-of-29 passing for 268 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. He totaled a 118.2 passer rating, topping 100 for the third time this year. He was accurate with his throws and consistently put his receivers in a position to make plays. Head coach Mike Mularkey also praised Mariota's mental ability to bounce back from a bad turnover:
Rating him as a passer alone, this game showed the progress you want to see from a rookie first-round pick. As he continues to limit mistakes, he will be an even bigger threat in the pocket.
Of course, Mariota provided more than just his ability as a passer on Sunday. In fact, he provided one of the biggest highlights of the day thanks to his skill as a runner:
Many running backs and receivers don't have the speed to score on that play, which makes the 87-yard run to the end zone so amazing for the quarterback. Although he hadn't used his legs quite as much this year as he did during his Heisman Trophy campaign with the Oregon Ducks, plays like this remind you that he has the game-changing ability you just can't teach.
The quarterback finished with 112 rushing yards in the win, the first time he even topped 50 yards in a single game. What made this even more encouraging was a lot of the plays—including the long touchdown—didn't come from designed runs, but instead scrambles.
The improvisation is what will make him such a dangerous weapon that teams will have to account for on defense. He hadn't broken that out much in 2015, but now everyone watching knows it's in Mariota's arsenal.
This all adds up to a great start to the young career for the No. 2 overall pick. In 10 games he has 2,512 passing yards and 19 touchdowns through the air, giving him a legitimate argument for the league's Offensive Rookie of the Year Award. There is obviously a lot of competition with fellow quarterback Jameis Winston in the midst of a strong season—along with skill players like Todd Gurley and Amari Cooper putting up big numbers—but this is a closer battle than it was a few weeks ago.
However, the truth is the future is much more important than the present for Mariota. The team is flat out bad, but all of a sudden there is hope in Tennessee.
Terry McCormick of Titans Insider noted the energy from the stadium:
Titans fans are starting to believe and showcase actual excitement toward a team that has been relatively dull in recent years. If the front office can add a few more quality players around him, Mariota has what it takes to turn the struggling franchise into a contender within a few years.
Meanwhile, the excitement goes beyond just Nashville. Whether it is due to the enjoyment of watching him play, or fantasy football owners seeing him rack up big points (35 points in standard leagues Sunday), Mariota is becoming a popular figure nationwide. According to Darren Rovell of ESPN, the quarterback's jersey was the 19th highest seller this week at NFL Shop, including the eighth quarterback and top overall rookie.
With so many top quarterback prospects flaming out within a few years, a player as talented and dynamic as Mariota is great for the future of the sport. It will only be better if Winston continues to improve at the same rate and fans are left debating for years as to which is the superior player.
There is obviously still a lot of room for the 22-year-old to improve. Fumbles remain an issue, while pocket awareness can still get better. Still, Mariota has been just about everything the Titans could have hoped for in his first season. Even with a dreadful overall record, the future is as bright as ever.
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