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Glennon's Take: Titans' Marcus Mariota Shows His Moxie

Posted Dec 31, 2017

It's been a challenging third NFL season for Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota in many respects. But he delivered the biggest play of the season – and added some surprising attitude afterward.


NASHVILLE, Tenn. –In many ways, Marcus Mariota's third season hasn't gone the way he envisioned.

Seemingly poised to join the NFL's elite quarterback group before the year started, Mariota instead endured his share of ups and downs. Heading into Sunday's regular-season finale, the Titans' signal-caller had thrown more interceptions than touchdowns, hampered by both his offseason surgery and a hamstring strain.

All of which set the stage for the Titans' final meaningful series of the regular season, Tennessee's playoff hopes very possibly on the line in a tightly contested game against Jacksonville.

On third-and-five from their 44, with just over two minutes left, Mariota and the Titans desperately needed a first down to keep Jacksonville's offense off the field.

With his receivers covered as he moved left, Mariota produced the most important play of the season – juking Jaguars defensive end Calais Campbell and then burying safety Barry Church with a stiff-arm on his way to a game-clinching, 13-yard gain.

“It was a great run, a great run,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. “I told him he's been taking notes from Derrick (Henry) and DeMarco (Murray) with stiff-arming, because that was a huge play to get us down and make them burn timeouts, to stay inbounds and keep the clock running.”

As impressive as the run was, Mariota's actions after the play were even more illustrative of the fire that burns within – and even more inspiring to Mariota's teammates.

Normally as stoic as they come, Mariota hopped up following the run and flipped the football to the turf with more than a hint of swagger, glaring into the distance.

But he wasn't done.

Instead of heading straight back to the huddle, Mariota spun around as he saw Church, walking toward Jacksonville's safety as if to deliver a message. That's when linebacker Wesley Woodyard ran from the sidelines to congratulate Mariota, thrilled his quiet quarterback was showing an attitude.

“I was cold (on the bench) and then all of a sudden I was hot, because I jumped off the bench excited,” Woodyard said. “Those are the kind of plays Marcus can make week in and week out to make opposing defenses very afraid of him.”

Added Mularkey: “You know me, I'm a body-language guy and I think our team fed off that. Everybody liked it. I know our sideline liked it.”

Mariota, as is his wont, downplayed the moment and his reaction, saying he was “just excited” and that he wasn't looking at anyone in particular.

But Titans tight end Delanie Walker, who normally refers to Mariota as “the silent assassin,” was every bit as excited as Woodyard to see Mariota exude so much emotion.

“You don't see much of that (from Mariota), but it's football,” Walker said. “He knows when you break somebody off -- when you juke somebody, stiff-arm a person, break a tackle and get the first down.

“He was juiced. I love to see that. He was even walking up on the Jaguars. I had to pull him off. That gave me chills.”

Mariota's third-down run was the capper on an afternoon in which he'd seemed a little more energetic in the pocket -- a little more willing to use his wheels – than he had been for several weeks. He gained 60 yards on a career-high 10 carries, a total that matched his combined rushing attempts over the past four games.

His ability to run – both scrambling and executing read options – was essential on a day that Jacksonville's talented secondary held the Titans' passing attack to just 134 yards through the air.

But if Mariota seemed a bit more willing to take on increased responsibilities during the season finale, perhaps it was due in part to a conversation he had with veteran linebackers Woodyard and Brian Orakpo during the past week.

The exchange sounded like it was part confidence-booster, part asking Mariota to do what was necessary to steer the Titans into the postseason.

“It was a great conversation,” Woodyard said. “When it all boils down to it, I just told him we had his back and believed in him. The plays are out there for him to make and he's just got to go out there and make them. Today he just went out there and made them.”

Said Mariota: “For them to bring me aside and talk about just playing my game, it meant a lot to me. I just really appreciate them taking the time.”

Mariota showed that appreciation Sunday, through his actions – and through his attitude.

-- Reach John Glennon at glennonsports@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @glennonsports.