Marcus Mariota, Titans defense make statements at Jaguars' expense
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Blaine Gabbert, fake punting and scheming a surprise of the Houston Texans was good.
Marcus Mariota, world-class defending and slamming your way to a shocker over the Jacksonville Jaguars is better.
One week the Jaguars have a claim as the best team in the NFL. The next week, after a 9-6 Titans win at Jacksonville’s TIAA Bank Field that only a defensive coordinator could love, they have the look of the second-best team in the AFC South. If the Jaguars (2-1) have the NFL’s best defense, where do the Titans (2-1) rank after this masterpiece?
“You hear about their defense all the time, all day, it’s been all offseason,” said Kevin Byard after the Titans allowed 232 yards and a pair of field goals to a team that just put 31 on the New England Patriots. “We went out there and dominated them today, and it feels good.”
Tennessean writers Joe Rexrode and Erik Bacharach break down the Titans' 9-6 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field George Walker IV, The Tennessean
And of course there’s way too much football left to feel great about any declarative statements – after all, Mike Mularkey’s Titans delivered a 21-point thumping in this stadium in the second week last season, en route to sweeping the Jags and finishing second to them in the division. Still, Mike Vrabel’s Titans made a few things clear Sunday in front of 64,015 muted fans who a week earlier were roaring through a rout of the Pats.
One, that this team absolutely has a defense with high upside. Two, that it has a cohesive locker room. Three, that it has crafty coaches. All of those things helped create a 20-17 upset of the Texans a week earlier even though Mariota was out with an elbow nerve injury and Gabbert was being protected by the team’s No. 4 and No. 5 offensive tackles.
Oh, and statement No. 4? That Mariota is a heck of a football player. This has been apparent countless times before, even though his status as a “franchise quarterback” has been under increasing and fair scrutiny of late. We have yet to find out if he can discover a new level of efficiency in this Matt LaFleur offense and become the consistent passer the Titans need him to be.
But he was brilliant with obvious throwing limitations Sunday, using all of the tools he has at his disposal after Gabbert was knocked from the game early with a concussion. Mariota technically doesn’t get the win because he didn’t start, but he got the game ball from Vrabel after going 12-for-18 – with four drops – for 100 yards and running for 51 more on seven carries.
“Fantastic,” Vrabel said of Mariota, who in typical Mariota style after the game said very little about his own performance or condition but did say: “It’s a crazy game. When it comes down to it, all that matters is finding ways to win.”
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“When I say heart, man, that’s what you call heart,” Jurrell Casey said of Mariota, who led the Titans 65 yards for Ryan Succop’s winning field goal, then ripped off a 15-yard run on a third-and-1 to help kill the clock. “That’s what you call determination.”
Titans defeat the Jaguars 9-6 at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Fla. George Walker, The Tennessean
And this is what you call a divisional rivalry with some clear dislike on both sides, which made the outcome as delicious for the Titans as it was rotten for the Jags. The top talker on either team, Jags cornerback Jalen Ramsey (Smyrna), managed 130 total words in response to 10 questions, or 13 words per question. It would have been 130 per, of pure fire, after a win.
Jacksonville linebacker Telvin Smith talked, though. Last season Casey boasted about sweeping the Jags, and Smith exaggerated those comments when he said Sunday of the defeat: “When I came in the locker room, it was tough because they are a team that has gone on record saying they don’t have any respect for us and they are the champs. Then they come out and beat us.”
Casey actually questioned whether Jacksonville should be called “kings of the (AFC) South” at the time. Regardless, he had some things to say Sunday as well.
“We stuck with the game plan, man. Come out and get after these guys,” Casey said. “Play more physical than they do. They’re front runners, everybody knows they’re front runners. You let them get ahead of you, they’re going to take over a game. You don’t let them get in front of you, they can’t do nothing. They’re going to quit by the third quarter. And that’s what happened today.”
And what about Blake Bortles, a frequent target of Casey quips, who followed up his 376-yard, four-touchdown game against New England with 155 passing yards?
“We all know the game plan against Bortles,” Casey said, and then he stopped for a moment to laugh, and then said: “I’m going to stay away from it.”
There is, after all, a ton of football left to play. And another game between these teams, Dec. 6, a Thursday night in Nashville.
It’s easy to see how that one could mean a lot. It was easy to hear Sunday the noise the Titans were making in grunting their way to another huge win in the division. And it’s clear how they feel about their quarterback, not that those feelings – or his toughness – were ever in question or in need of a statement.
“He’s such a warrior, I have so much respect for him,” Logan Ryan said of Mariota. “I see what he does off the field, so much credit to him and that’s why he’s our quarterback. So gritty. The perfect quarterback for this team.”Reach Joe Rexrode at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @joerexrod