NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Marcus Mariota finally has done something in the NFL that the Tennessee quarterback never managed before in his career. Not in college at Oregon while winning the Heisman Trophy , nor in high school back in Hawaii.
He saw defenders intercept four of his passes in the same game.
And it’s been as painful as anyone could expect. Making it worse? All those interceptions coming on a Thursday night to add extra days to Mariota’s wait before the Titans (6-4) visit Indianapolis (3-7) on Sunday.
“I would say I’m anxious,” Mariota said Wednesday. “I think the competitor in me wants to prove that it was a fluke and that I’m better than that. Obviously, you can learn from it, make smarter decisions with the football. Yes, I’m ready to get back out there.”
With the four interceptions in the 40-17 loss in Pittsburgh , Mariota already has 10 this season, two more than the eighth touchdown passes he’s thrown. The 10 interceptions through his nine games already match what Mariota had through 12 games as a rookie and is one more than he had in 15 games last season.
Titans coach Mike Mularkey said the interceptions in Pittsburgh weren’t all Mariota’s fault.
“Whether it’s been pressure, had more pressure, more blitz, more making him move, more guys needing to make plays, more guys being where that ball, like (in Pittsburgh),” Mularkey said. “That’s the thing about zone coverage … they just happen to be in the right place in the right time and that’s kind of what happened with some of his interceptions.”
A couple of interceptions simply sailed on Mariota this season, like the first one in Pittsburgh that went over wide receiver Rishard Matthews’ head. Rookie wide receiver Corey Davis took the blame for two interceptions.
Mariota said Davis doesn’t have to say that at all because he’s the quarterback throwing the ball.
“Really when it comes down to it, if I can be smarter with the football,” Mariota said. “I think every quarterback when they’re sitting back there thinks they can make every throw, and sometimes it’s better to either take off and maybe get a few yards or even get a sack. Those are things that I learned and I’ll continue to get better at them.”
The Titans have given Mariota more responsibility at the line of scrimmage to switch plays. But Davis, the fifth pick overall out of Western Michigan, has only played five games this season due to a hamstring injury, and veteran Eric Decker didn’t join the team until training camp.
The combination has Mariota ranked 27th among NFL quarterbacks with a 79.9 passer rating; 20th with 2,089 yards passing; and tied for 29th in TD passes. Yet Mariota has led the Titans on three game-winning drives this season.
Matthews said it’s impressive how Mariota bounces back as a competitor.
“Whether it’s going good or bad, he’s pretty even-keeled,” Matthews said. “And his only focus is to go out there and put us in the best position to make plays and make the plays that are there.”
Mariota should have a chance to bounce back against a Colts defense that ranks 30th, allowing 274.5 yards passing per game.
Colts coach Chuck Pagano has seen Mariota as much as any NFL coach, and he sees a quarterback looking more comfortable and making good decisions despite the performance in Pittsburgh. Pagano said everyone has some struggles in the NFL.
“That’s how it is in the National Football League,” Pagano said. “He had a tough day against the Steelers, and you’ve got to credit the defense and things like that. He’s making great decisions, he’s a great manager, competitive guy, we know what an athlete he is.”
Notes: The Titans had a completely empty injury report Wednesday with nobody listed.
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