ATLANTA – As NFL debuts go, Marcus Mariota’s first performance in a Tennessee Titans uniform wasn’t the worst thing ever. Look, he didn’t pull a John Elway and line up under the guard. He didn’t emulate Matthew Stafford and throw three interceptions. And he didn’t get punched in the face by a teammate. Plus, he eventually led his team to a touchdown. So, yeah, small victories.
What Mariota did do, unfortunately, was throw an interception on his very first possession that was nearly returned for a touchdown. Soon afterward, he fumbled the ball into the hands of the Falcons’ Paul Worrilow, who rumbled 14 yards for a touchdown.
Two possessions, two turnovers, negative-seven points, and a sense that maybe, just maybe, this NFL game was moving too fast even for an Oregon alumnus.
But on his third possession, Mariota at last validated Tennessee’s faith in him. Mariota appeared far more comfortable with a no-backfield spread offense than a conventional under-center lineup — no surprise there — and orchestrated a 90-yard drive in which he went five-for-five for 78 yards. The drive ended in an easy end-around touchdown by Dexter McCluster. Mariota then gave way to Zach Mettenberger, his night’s work done.
So what do we make of this brief performance? Mariota ended the night 7-of-8 for 94 yards in slightly more than one quarter of play, which projects out to a strong game overall. He seemed to manage a huddle well enough, and didn’t immediately run screaming when he had to take snaps under center. But he made several poor decisions: he held the ball too long when the pocket collapsed and suffered an 11-yard sack, he looked flustered immediately prior to the interception, and he simply dropped the ball that ended up returned for a touchdown.
In other words, it was a typical rookie quarterback performance.
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