After missing last week’s contest against the Dolphins, a hobbled Marcus Mariota returned to action against the Colts on Monday night to give the Titans their first win over Indianapolis since 2011.
This wasn’t a typical Mariota game, however. Coming back early from an injured hamstring, Mariota simply couldn’t run the ball, which takes a significant chunk of plays out of the Titans playbook. At one point of the game, the Titans called a run-pass option, but Indianapolis didn’t fall for the bluff. On another play, it looked like he was going to take off, but then slid before the line of scrimmage to end the play.
With his legs unavailable, Mariota had to beat Indianapolis with his arm and that’s exactly what he did.
Tennessee was dull to start off the game, settling for a field goal on their first three possessions before taking a knee on their fourth possession to close out the half. When they came on the field for the first time in the third quarter, Mariota had a pass batted at the line of scrimmage that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown by John Simon.
After that, Tennessee started clicking on offense with Mariota peppering in short passes, including a screen to Rishard Matthews that went for 27 yards – and could have been a touchdown – set up by a great play action.
He continued to pick apart the Colts defense and started throwing deeper, putting Tennessee in the lead for good with this dime to Taywan Taylor in busted coverage.
— NFL UK (@NFLUK) October 17, 2017
After his interception, Mariota completed 14 of 18 passes for 198 yards and a touchdown. He completed his final nine passes to end the game.
And even hobbled, Mariota made a significant play on the ground. Facing a fourth-and-one down and still down 19-15 on the most important drive of the game, Mariota perfectly executed a fourth down play, trying to draw the Colts defenders offsides as Indianapolis expected a handoff. Instead, Mariota kept the ball and hurdled forward to earn the first down for his team. The Titans would later score their first touchdown of the game, a three-yard rush by DeMarco Murray.
The Titans offensive line also protected well for Mariota, as he was sacked just once, but he remained calm under pressure.
Marcus Mariota under pressure tonight:
7 for 8
158.3 passer rating
— Nathan Jahnke (@PFF_NateJahnke) October 17, 2017
Last night proved that even with an injured Mariota at the helm, the Titans are significantly better on offense with him there instead of Matt Cassel. This game was a big test for Mariota, who will need to rely on his arm more than his legs as his career continues to progress, especially given his injury history, and he passed.