The second-worst team in football last season was blessed to open their campaign against the worst team in football. Both of them had shiny new quarterbacks, and are a year removed from flimsy, bottom-three defenses. That’s where the similarities stopped. Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota stomped on the Buccaneers’ dicks.
The rookie from Oregon aced his first NFL game, a 42-14 win, completing 13 of 16 pass attempts for four touchdowns and 209 yards. You read that correctly: he had more touchdowns than incompletions. Mariota did so well, coach Ken Whisenhunt subbed him out in the fourth quarter for Zach Mettenberger.
Five plays into the game, Mariota recorded his first touchdown, to Kendall Wright, on a play-action play in shotgun formation. The quarterback fired an accurate pass to Wright with alarming quickness:
He utilized Bishop Sankey as a dumpoff option when the pressure got to him:
Mariota didn’t play like it was his first pro football game. He stayed calm, sold handoffs well on play-action passes, and didn’t panic when the play clock neared zero, throwing a four-yard touchdown to Harry Douglas on a ball that was snapped with :02 left. Notably, Mariota stayed in the pocket, with only two carries for six yards, one of them a three-yard loss out of bounds after he was flushed out. He finished the day with a perfect 158.3 QB rating, and yet still gave a boilerplate quote about improvement:
“It means we’re 1 and 0,” Mariota said. “For me, it’s taking it one day at a time and just executing to the best of my abilities. It’s a good start for us, but it’s the first game. We have to continue to get better and not focus on stats.”
Mariota won’t get to play Tampa Bay’s defense every week, but his debut was extremely encouraging. Tennessee’s offensive line will face tougher pass rushes in the coming weeks. As for the top overall draft pick, Jameis Winston threw a pick-six to Coty Sensabaugh on his first pass attempt, and finished 16 of 33 with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Not every rookie’s first game goes so well.
Photo: Cliff McBride/Stringer/Getty Images Sport
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