Marcus Mariota’s stellar performance pushed the Tennessee Titans to a victory on Monday Night Football.
Thanks to a Week 8 bye, Tennessee Titans had fifteen days to prepare for their Monday Night Football showdown with the Dallas Cowboys. In that regard, the extra time was a blessing. It also probably served as a bit of a curse.
After failing to convert on a two-point attempt at the end of their Week 7 loss to the Chargers, the Titans were left with a sour taste in the mouths. More specifically, the Titans’ coaches were left with sour tastes.
Offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur deservingly received a lot of criticism following the game for his poor play-calling, and head coach Mike Vrabel was consequently criticized for his general mismanagement of the team.
Heading into the bye week, Vrabel said his focus would be on answering the questions, “How can I do a better job of coaching? How can I do a better job teaching? How can our coaches do a better job of getting the message to the players?”
For a lot of Titans fans, those words fell on deaf ears. Vrabel’s mantra of “we need to coach better” sounds humble after a win, but stale after a loss. As many noted throughout the week leading up to Monday’s game, those words would not suffice if the Titans lost their fourth straight.
Thankfully, for fans and the coaching staff, that did not happen.
Instead, the Titans went into Jerry World and overcame a disastrous start to win by two touchdowns and return to a .500 record. As well as the defense played throughout the game, the Titans have their offense to thank for the victory.
Following a week of questions as to whether he should be considered the Titans’ franchise quarterback, Marcus Mariota shined. He had easily his best overall game of the season, and one of the best of his career.
Mariota found the end zone three times, twice through the air and once on the ground. While he was partially responsible for two fumbles in the first quarter, he threw zero interceptions.
Beyond the stat sheet, Mariota was sensational in that he effectively managed the pocket (minus a first-quarter strip sack), delivered highly accurate and catchable footballs, and supplemented the passing game with the use of his legs.
As a result of Mariota’s stability, the entire Titans’ offense was able to pick itself up off of the ground. They scored their first first-half touchdown since Week 2, taking an early lead and ultimately solidifying it in the second half.
No trade, no problem!
Perhaps the biggest key to the success of the Titans’ offense was their consistency on third down. The Titans were an extremely impressive 11-14 in third-down situations, keeping punter Brett Kern on the sideline for a vast majority of the game.
Running back Dion Lewis was incredibly productive, making life easier for Mariota with his success on screen passes. He totaled 122 yards from scrimmage, averaging 15 yards per reception in the passing game.
Lewis, however, was just one of a whopping nine different players who caught passes from Mariota during the game. After being heavily criticized by fans, many of whom desired the Titans to make a trade at the position, the Titans’ receiving corps really stepped up.
“We try to ignore the noise,” said receiver Taywan Taylor during the bye week regarding the cries for a trade. “We know we can’t control everybody’s opinion and we can’t control what people say. We can only control what we can control, so we try to do a good job of that. Stay levelheaded and just focus on doing our job.”
The game really served as a coming out party for offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur, whose aforementioned struggled in previous games resulted in a good bit of doubt in his abilities over the bye week. LaFleur mentioned on Thursday that he tries to treat every game as a learning experience.
“I think every game is a learning experience. I think you get better and more comfortable with reps. Hopefully, that will continue with me, just like it is with the expectations of the players. You can get better and better as you move forward.”
Continue, it did. LaFleur’s game plan was sensational against the Cowboys, constantly putting their defense into bad situations. He showed a real comfort level throughout the game, calling the right plays at the right times, particularly in the screen game.
Everything is seeming to be heading in the right direction with the Titans offense at just the right time. They will need to show up big again next week if the team has any hope of beating the red-hot Patriots.
At least for now, nobody is getting fired and nobody is getting cut. Monday night was a must-win for the Titans, and they came through in a big way.
(Cover image via USA Today/Tim Heitman)