Rejecting status quo can make Marcus Mariota, Titans true contenders

From ESPN - January 14, 2018

The Tennessee Titans ended the season with a 35-14 divisional-round loss to the New England Patriots on Saturday. Here's a recap of the season and what's next:

Season grade: Somewhere between average and above average. The Titans overcame a December three-game losing streak to end their nine-year playoff drought and won their first postseason contest since the 2003 season, but their offensive struggles were too much to compete against the AFC elite. It took too long to unleash the late-season version of Marcus Mariota, but when we saw it Week 17 vs. Jacksonville and in the playoffs at Kansas City it left a lasting feeling of hope and future promise if some changes are made. Nothing was ever easy or pretty, but they enjoyed more success than failure.

"We used to be the armpit of the NFL," linebacker Brian Orakpo said. "We have come a long way. We have accomplished a lot of goals."

Season in review: The Titans were among the media's preseason darlings due to Mariota returning from injury with a bevy of new offensive weapons in Corey Davis, Eric Decker, Taywan Taylor and Jonnu Smith. They also added three starting defensive backs to fix a struggling secondary, and while this group did show improvement, it's apparent that there is still growth needed.

The Titans' offense, however, regressed collectively. Delanie Walker and Taylor Lewan were the only offensive players who played as well as they did in 2016. Mariota took a step back, throwing for a career-high 15 interceptions and a career-low 13 touchdowns in the regular season. He graded his Year 3 as "OK." Titans offensive coaches did not do enough to adjust to their players' strengths. Tennessee's mistake-prone and often predictable offense was typically hard to watch.

Despite the visually unappealing on-field product, the Titans ran out to an 8-4 record. They then lost three straight before needing four turnovers to squeak by the Jaguars and make the playoffs. Their resiliency and toughness showed throughout the season and played a huge role overcoming a 18-point halftime deficit to win at Kansas City in the wild-card round.

The blowout playoff loss to New England was humbling. Progress was apparent, but now that they have cleared the hurdle, the playoffs should be a minimum expectation for Tennessee.

Biggest play of season: It was Titans ball, third-and-goal from the Chiefs' 6-yard line midway through the third quarter of a wild-card game in which Tennessee trailed 21-3. Mariota scrambled to his left and threw on the run, trying to squeeze the ball to Davis in the end zone. Chiefs cornerback Darrelle Revis batted it in the air, Mariota caught it like a rebound and smoothly dove into the end zone for a touchdown. Mariota was the first player to catch a touchdown from himself since Minnesota Vikings QB Brad Johnson in Week 7 of the 1997 season.


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