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VOL. 40 | NO. 51 | Friday, December 16, 2016

Winning with ‘bad’ Mariota a good sign for Titans

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Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota looks for a receiver against the Denver Broncos in the first half of Sunday's win in Nashville.

-- Ap Photo/James Kenney

The Titans had been riding the gifted right arm of Marcus Mariota for about two months.

The second-year quarterback had played so well during that period that he was named November AFC Offensive Player of the Month and was beginning to draw attention as one of the young QBs to keep an eye on as he began elevating his game toward superstardom.

But Sunday at Nissan Stadium against the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos, Mariota’s passing numbers crashed back to earth with a resounding thud.

After eight consecutive games of at least two touchdown passes, Mariota was off the mark against Denver’s talented defensive unit. He hit just 6 of 20 throws for a mere 88 yards.

Sure, there was a key 26-yard completion to Rishard Matthews that helped the Titans preserve their victory. But other than that, it was the type of passing day that was probably better off forgotten.

Except that the Titans won.

That victory and how it was achieved should be one of the most encouraging moments of the year as the Titans move forward.

Not only did they post a victory over a perennial playoff team, but they figured out a way to achieve that victory without an A game from their star quarterback.

Titans coach Mike Mularkey knew going into that game that his club would rely less on Mariota’s arm and more on the rushing of DeMarco Murray and the play of the offensive line in order to try and beat the Broncos. But a 30 percent completion rating was probably not in the game plan.

“I give a lot of credit to our offensive staff that they put a game plan together that didn’t rely on us throwing the ball with the guy that’s had the hot hand in the last six-to-eight weeks,” Mularkey says.

“We knew going in the plan was we need to have the ability to run the football, possess it, keep it out of their hands and not think we have to win it one way. We knew how we had to win the game, and we stuck with the plan.”

Even Mariota was on board with how the Titans went about achieving their victory on Sunday.

“That is how it is going to be sometimes,” he says. “We had to grind it out a little bit on offense, you know, make plays when we needed to and guys did.

“Again, hats off to the defense, they deserve a lot of credit for this victory, and it just says a lot about this team. When things aren’t going well on one side of the ball, the other side can pick it up, and that is all that matters is coming out with a win.”

Going forward with three games left, the Titans actually control their own playoff destiny. If they can win their final three games – at Kansas City, at Jacksonville and at home against Houston – the Titans will win the AFC South, just a season after being the worst team in the league.

It is quite the change in culture, and now the results are showing on the field as the Titans’ confidence grows.

“That just signifies the change around here,” linebacker Derrick Morgan says. “A new regime, a new mindset, a new culture, new players and we’ve all bought in since April and we’ve been committed.”

Mularkey said the expectation to win has grown, no matter what it takes to get that done.

“I think it’s a mindset. I think it’s the experience of doing it, knowing we can do it and we can win those games,” he says. “It’s believing in each other the way these guys do. They care about each other.

“I’ve said that numerous times. I think the more you do things, the more confident you get in them. The more we can win – again, like a game like yesterday, I knew it was going to come down to probably one score.

“When you’re going to run the ball that many times, it’s not going to be a high-scoring game. It’s going to be a close score. We’re learning how to win them.”

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com

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