Marcus Mariota helped carry the Tennessee Titans into the playoffs Sunday, thanks in big part to his legs and a little encouragement from his friends.
Mariota and the Titans offense, which struggled at times this season and again on Sunday, got needed boost from the quarterback’s rushing abilities in edging the Jacksonville Jaguars, 15-10, and earning the franchise’s first playoff bid since 2008 in the process.
Mariota rushed 10 times Sunday for 60 yards to lead the Titans, including picking up a key third-down conversion in the fourth quarter to help Tennessee extinguish most of the clock. Mariota even used a hesitation and a stiff-arm to gain13 yards and take the clock to the two-minute warning.
“It was a great run, great run,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. “I told him obviously he’s been taking notes from Derrick and DeMarco (Murray) with stiff-arming, because that was a huge play to get us down and make them burn timeouts, to stay in bounds and keep the clock running.”
Mariota, who said most of his yards Sunday were really more scrambles than designed runs, said his instincts took over in that situation.
“I kind of understood the situation. It was kind of more instinctual and I just made a play,” Mariota said.
While Mariota’s mobility has been limited this season, thanks to hamstring and knee injuries and the off-season surgery last year for a broken fibula, he showed more of his old mobile self in Sunday’s must win to reach the postseason.
He did so with a little encouragement from a couple of veteran teammates on the defensive side – Brian Orakpo and Wesley Woodyard. The two linebackers had a little chat with the third-year quarterback earlier in the week, telling him it was go time.
“That was huge. When I looked into his eyes, he had those Oregon eyes like he did back in college, running around making plays,” Orakpo said. “I think me and Wood got in his head a little bit – in a positive way. We talked to him like, ‘If you see something, take off, man.’ We had a nice little talk and it just paid off the way he was digging down deep.”
Mariota said he appreciated his veteran teammates giving him such encouragement.
“It’s a privilege to play with these guys. A lot of these older guys, I look up to and learn a lot from and for them to bring me aside and talk to me about just playing my game meant a lot to me,” Mariota said.
The Titans quarterback was 12 of 21 for just 134 yards through the air with 66 yards of that coming on a screen pass touchdown to Derrick Henry. But it was his dual threat skills that returned that helped to bail out the sluggish Tennessee offense at critical junctures of the game and help them reach the postseason in the process.