DETROIT — Marcus Mariota moved the Tennessee Titans down the field like a savvy veteran, not a second-year pro, and completed all nine of his throws to complete a comeback a week after his turnovers hurt his team’s shot to win.
Mariota converted a fourth down with a perfectly lofted 9-yard touchdown pass to Andre Johnson with 1:13 left, lifting the Titans to a 16-15 win over the Detroit Lions on Sunday.
“They came out in a look that we had kind of anticipated,” Mariota said. “Looking at it, we had a matchup with Andre on a linebacker. We felt that we could kind of exploit that a little bit, and he made a great play. I just tried to give him a chance.”
Mariota, the No. 2 pick of the 2015 NFL draft, dropped the pass over linebacker Tahir Whitehead to Johnson, the No. 3 pick overall in 2013, just before safety Rafael Bush could get to him to potentially break up the pass.
Johnson said he didn’t play a lot at Detroit, but was thankful his new team gave him a chance to make a catch in a crucial situation.
“Andre made a great play,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. “That’s why he’s going to be in the Hall of Fame.”
The Titans (1-1) ended a five-game losing streak, dating to last December, after Mariota threw two TD passes in the fourth quarter after trailing 15-3.
“It’s something you can build on,” Johnson said.
The Lions (1-1) had an opportunity to set up a winning field goal in the final minute for a second straight week, but Matthew Stafford threw an interception to Perrish Cox at midfield with 18 seconds left.
“It was a great play by him,” Stafford said. “I wish I hadn’t thrown the ball, but hindsight is 20-20.”
Detroit had won seven of nine, dating to midway through the 2015 season, and receiver Golden Tate said wasting a chance to continue the team’s momentum won’t affect its players or coaches.
“We’re definitely confident and will be confident from here on out,” Tate said.
Tennessee started five possessions at their 9 or closer to their end zone, making it tough to win the battle of field position. DeMarco Murray flipped the field once with a 67-yard run, his longest since 2011 when he was a rookie with the Dallas Cowboys, but the Titans didn’t take advantage because of mistakes in the flag-filled game that included 29 penalties. Detroit was flagged 17 times, matching the most penalties the team has had in a game since at least 1950.
When it mattered most, the Titans went 93 yards — including 10 yards they had to gain twice because of a penalty — on 13 plays over nearly 6 minutes on the game-winning drive.
A week ago, Mariota had two turnovers that led to Tennessee losing a 10-point lead in a 25-16 loss to Minnesota and proved he could bounce back.
“The guy is a gamer,” Mularkey said. “He’s gutty. He’ll give us a chance every game we play.”
The Titans got tight end Delanie Walker involved as planned, and as Detroit feared it would after letting Indianapolis Colts tight ends Dwayne Allen and Jack Doyle combine for seven receptions, 88 yards and three TDs last week. Walker had six receptions for 83 yards, including a 30-yard TD catch early in the fourth quarter that helped Tennessee pull within five points.
“When we watched the Colts film, we seen a lot of things that we thought we could take advantage of,” Walker acknowledged.
The Lions played without one of their best players on defense, missing linebacker DeAndre Levy because of a quadriceps injury, and lost another top player on that side of the ball early in the game when defensive end Ezekiel Ansah limped off with a left ankle injury and didn’t return. Detroit running back Ameer Abdullah left with an injured left foot after a 24-yard run in the second quarter. The Titans had linebacker Derrick Morgan (hamstring) inactive and rookie Kevin Dodd made the most of the opportunity to play more, sacking Stafford late in the first half. They lost another linebacker, Avery Williamson, with a back injury during the game.
The Titans head back home to host Oakland. Detroit goes on the road, where it will be for three of its first four games, to play Baltimore.