In the dark shadows of the Tennessee Titans’ fan base, there are rumblings that Marcus Mariota hasn’t proven he is a franchise quarterback.
While the thought in itself is absurd, the Titans’ come-from-behind 24-20 win over the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 10 should quiet the naysayers and put to rest any notions he isn’t the quarterback to lead the team to the promise land.
The matchup against the Bengals set up for a classic Titans’ failure, a theme the fans have gotten used to over the years. Tennessee battles all game against a lesser opponent to hold onto the lead before letting it slip away in the fourth quarter for another painful loss.
But just as it looked like the Titans would fall to 5-4, Mariota orchestrated a 12-play, 73-yard drive, finding DeMarco Murray for a 7-yard touchdown pass with 36 seconds left to vault the Titans to a 6-3 record and a first-place standing in the AFC South, holding the tiebreaker over the Jacksonville Jaguars (6-3).
Was Mariota’s final line eye-popping — 25-of-44 passing for 264 yards and a touchdown. No. But his final drive showed exactly why he is the perfect quarterback for this franchise.
For better or worse, Mariota is stuck in an offense that doesn’t work to his strengths, namely up-tempo plays with misdirection. Regardless, the third-year quarterback has evolved and shown the invaluable ability to pull the Titans out of the Pit of Misery time and again to put the team back on the path to righteousness.
Don’t believe me? Well, the Titans’ win over the Bengals was Mariota’s sixth fourth-quarter comeback of his career and the third the season. He led go-ahead, fourth-quarter scoring drives against the Indianapolis Colts on Monday Night Football and followed it up with another come-from-behind drive against the Cleveland Browns in Week 7.
What more could you ask for out of your franchise quarterback? Oh, you want him to put up passing numbers like Drew Brees? Sorry, but that probably wouldn’t happen with any quarterback playing in this ‘exotic’ run-based offense.
Want proof of that? Look at the team’s passing rate. Tennessee throws the ball less per game than 24 other teams in the NFL. They attempt 32.2 pass plays per game (25th), which is six passes less than the New England Patriots (4th), a team that also likes to run the ball but still manages to attempt 38.4 passes per game.
The lack of attempts certainly help explain why the Titans are the bottom third of the league in almost every passing statistic.
It’s no secret that Tennessee wants to establish the run in the first half of games in an attempt to wear down defenses in the second half, which has worked well this year. It may not be as flashy as last year, and I think a lot of that has to do with Murray not being fully healthy, but the Titans are still averaging 127.9 rushing yards per game, good enough for sixth in the NFL.
That means Mariota has to pick his spots when passing, and it looks like he is picking those spots to shine in the second half of games, when it matters most.
Lucas Davis covers the Tennessee Titans for profootballspot.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @LDsportswriter.