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Marcus Mariota Talks Raiders, Oregon, Call of Duty and More in B/R Interview

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistOctober 27, 2021

Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) during an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Monday, Sept. 13, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

"Leadership."

That is what Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Marcus Mariota said interim head coach Rich Bisaccia immediately brought to the team when he took over after Jon Gruden resigned. 

"From the moment he took over, his command of the entire team was pretty predominant," Mariota told Bleacher Report in an exclusive interview. "It's something that we can look to as we go in the right direction. He's gathered everybody, he's put us on the same page, he's had the same mindset day in and day out. As long as we continue to improve, I think this team is really good and tough to beat."

The Raiders have been more than just tough to beat since Bisaccia assumed the coaching responsibilities.

In fact, they are 2-0 with double-digit victories over the Philadelphia Eagles and division-rival Denver Broncos. The result is a 5-2 record, which is good enough for first place in a daunting AFC West that includes the loaded rosters of the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers.

Las Vegas is also tied with the Cincinnati Bengals, Baltimore Ravens and Tennessee Titans for the best record in the AFC and looks like a much better team than it did during a 20-9 loss to the Chicago Bears in Gruden's final game before he resigned when emails revealed he used racist, sexist and anti-gay language.

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"Especially through the adversity that we've gone through the last couple weeks, it's a testament to this team and a testament to the guys in the locker room," Mariota said of the recent winning streak under Bisaccia.

Jed Jacobsohn/Associated Press

Mariota has gone through his own adversity this season.

It appeared the No. 2 pick of the 2015 NFL draft, who started 61 games for the Titans during his first five seasons, was going to be involved in different packages for the Raiders this year when he broke through for a 31-yard run in the opener against the Baltimore Ravens.

However, he suffered a quadriceps injury on the play and was placed on injured reserve until he was activated on Oct. 16. He had a four-yard run during Sunday's win over the Eagles and is ready to help the team in whatever way he's asked.

"I feel great," Mariota said. "It's a credit to the Raiders training staff, a whole lot of people who were able to get me back faster than I initially thought. I feel great; it's fun being a part of this team. It's a young team, and guys are flying around and playing well. Coach says it all the time, 'Excel in whatever your role is.' Whatever that is for me and whatever that entails, I'm just going to do my best to try to help this team win."

His role will likely be fairly limited still thanks to the presence of Derek Carr.

There were some questions about Carr's future before the season since he is under contract through just the 2022 campaign. The Raiders selected him with a second-round pick in 2014 and have largely struggled from a team perspective despite his three Pro Bowl appearances and three seasons with more than 4,000 passing yards on an individual level.

The Raiders have never won the AFC West with Carr and lost to the Houston Texans in the AFC Wild Card Game during their only playoff appearance in his career. That 2016 season was also their only one with a winning record since drafting the quarterback.

That all seems primed to change in 2021.

"Extremely high," Mariota said when asked about the team's confidence level in Carr. "I think he's very underrated. I think he's a guy down in and down out who is very accurate and gets us in good plays. At the line of scrimmage, he's got a total command of the offense. For me as a player even playing against him for years, he is such a cerebral player, but at the same time, he lets his instincts take over. He's playing at a very high level right now, and I think the team truly believes in him. We're going to go as far as our quarterback goes."

Carr has been dialed in this season while completing 67.7 percent of his passes for 2,269 yards, 12 touchdowns and five picks.

He is spreading the ball around with seven different players tallying double-digit reception totals through the first seven games and has made clutch plays on the way to a 5-2 record. Two of those victories came in overtime when he defeated the Ravens with a winning touchdown pass to Zay Jones and set up the winning field goal against the Miami Dolphins with a long completion to Bryan Edwards.

Carr may be QB1 on the field with that passing ability, but Mariota would surely hold his own in a Call of Duty competition.

Mariota partnered with the video game franchise ahead of the Nov. 5 release of Call of Duty: Vanguard. Players will have the opportunity to experience World War II battles through the original Special Forces Operators and on different fronts in the new game.

"I love Call of Duty," Mariota said of the partnership. "I have a group of friends, and we've been playing since the first Modern Warfare like in middle school and early high school. We play it pretty religiously and jump on regularly since it's an easy way to stay in touch. We just love playing the game; we love being competitive."

He also thinks all that experience would help him be "pretty decent" in a competition against his fellow Raiders.

"Word on the street is Henry Ruggs is pretty good," Mariota said. "Keisean Nixon, there's a few guys that I've heard in the locker room who are pretty solid. Haven't played them yet, but I'd take my shot. I think I'd be pretty decent."

Mariota went from playing Call of Duty with his friends in high school to becoming a household name as one of the most dominant college football players of his generation.

Steve Dykes/Associated Press

He won the 2014 Heisman Trophy at Oregon by throwing for 4,454 yards, 42 touchdowns and four interceptions while adding 770 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground in an incredible individual season.

The Ducks advanced to the College Football Playoff National Championship Game with their dominant quarterback at the helm, although they were unable to do something once they got there that this year's team did: beat Ohio State.

Oregon is in the thick of the CFP race in large part thanks to its win over the Buckeyes, and Mariota believes his school has an opportunity to make some noise down the stretch.

"I think they're pretty battle-tested," he said. "Throughout the season, they've had a lot of close calls. When you make a run like this, especially in college football, you're going to have to go through some of those games. And this team has proven they can win in some of these crunch-time games."

There has been some inconsistency, though, as the Ducks lost to Stanford and barely escaped a matchup against California that saw some of their home fans booing quarterback Anthony Brown and the offense. Mariota is hoping to talk to the Oregon quarterback during the Raiders' Week 8 bye and highlighted some of his clutch plays late in that California game and in a 34-31 win over UCLA.

"With this bye week I'm heading up there in a few days," he said. "Hopefully I get the chance to talk to him. For everything that he's gone through this entire year and his entire career, he's played well in big moments. That's all you ask for is a guy just to make plays when it counts, and he's stepped up to the plate when things have gotten close in these clutch moments."

If the Ducks and Raiders continue to deliver in those clutch moments as fall turns into winter, perhaps Mariota's current team and the college he became famous at will be playing for championships.

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