When you look at his accomplishments in context, Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota is a lot more valuable to the team than he often gets credit for.

In relief of an injured Blaine Gabbert, quarterback Marcus Mariota led the Tennessee Titans to a 9-6 win against the Jacksonville Jaguars and their terrifying defense. His performance in the game revealed a lot about the fourth-year signal-caller.

For one, Mariota is clearly the leader of the Titans locker room, as if there was ever really doubt in that regard. His return to play invigorated the entire team, and you could tell just how important he is to everyone when head coach Mike Vrabel gave him the first game ball after the game (see below Tweet and video).

The game also revealed a lot about the player that Mariota is on the field. Playing with an abbreviated playbook due to his limitations throwing the football, Mariota looked more comfortable than he has in a long while.

Most importantly, he did not turn the ball over a single time while consistently moving the chains. He delivered several accurate throws and, when it counted, put the team in positions to score points.

Stats don’t tell the whole story.

If you ask anyone who watched the Titans play the Jaguars on Sunday, they should tell you that it was a good game for Mariota, and it certainly was. The numbers, however, were not that impressive.

Mariota completed 12 of his 18 pass attempts for just 100 yards. He added 51 yards on the ground, but that still makes just 151 yards from scrimmage accounted for by the quarterback.

For most NFL quarterbacks, in a majority of circumstances, those numbers would be considered pedestrian. They would be indicative of a poor game. Yet, with Mariota against the Jaguars on Sunday, he was a hero.

Especially over the last couple of weeks, Mariota’s viability has been a hot topic for Titans fans and media members. Those for him point out his impressive 2016 campaign, his top-notch mobility, and his undeniable quality of leadership. Those against him point out his concerning history of injuries, his propensity as of late to frequently turn the ball over, and his frequent inability to effectuate a downfield passing attack.

All of these criticisms and praises are fair. However, Titans fans need to look at Mariota in the context of recent team history.

It’s easy to forget…

When the Titans took Jake Locker in the first round back in 2011, they would have loved if he became what Mariota is for the team now. Locker, like Mariota, frequently suffered nicks and bruises that kept him out of games. Except, unlike Mariota, Locker was prone to missing chunks of time. Outside of his rookie year, Mariota has yet to miss more than one game in a single season.

Many thought that LSU product Zach Mettenberger would be a draft steal for the Titans, and some even thought his presence should have kept the team from drafting Mariota. In ten starts, Mettenberger won zero games. His feet were like bricks in the pocket, and his arm was incredibly volatile.

And let’s not forget how the Titans have fared over the last two seasons with backup quarterbacks replacing Mariota. Matt Cassel was dreadful last season in relief, practically forcing the Titans to release him at the end of the season.

Blaine Gabbert may have helped the team to a win against the Texans, but the coaching staff was so scared to put the game in his hands that they barely let him do anything. In his limited playing time against Jacksonville last week, he was dreadful. He missed a wide open Taywan Taylor on a boot and allowed himself to get quickly pressured by making poor decisions at the line of scrimmage.

Does the fact that Mariota is lightyears better than all of these guys make him Aaron Rodgers? Of course not. It does, however, make him, rather clearly, a viable option at quarterback for the Titans that they can win with.

The biggest question, though, is whether that is enough for a big-time contract extension next year. Mariota becomes a free agent at the end of the 2019 season, and simply being “viable,” in the eyes of some, is not enough to warrant the Titans handing over the money it would take to keep him around.

Those people need to take a closer look at things.

Where does Mariota rank?

With the help of Matias Wodner and Will Lomas of Titan Sized, I divided the NFL’s 31 starting quarterbacks aside from Mariota into three categories. The categories were: “better” than Mariota, “not as good” as Mariota, and “just as good” as Mariota.

The three of us voted on which category each quarterback was placed in, and the results are very telling.

NOT AS GOOD (15): Sam Bradford, Joe Flacco, Josh Allen, Mitchell Trubisky, Andy Dalton, Tyrod Taylor, Dak Prescott, Case Keenum, Deshaun Watson, Blake Bortles, Eli Manning, Sam Darnold, Jimmy Garoppolo, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Alex Smith

AS GOOD/PUSH (3): Phillip Rivers, Jared Goff, Derek Carr

BETTER (14): Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, Matthew Stafford, Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, Patrick Mahomes, Ryan Tannehill, Kirk Cousins, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Carson Wentz, Ben Roethlisberger, Russell Wilson

There may be some individual decisions on this list that you disagree with. But for the most part, this is a pretty fair list. And, as you can see, Mariota ranks dead center among NFL starting quarterbacks.

Is a middle of the road starter worth a contract extension? Absolutely. If Blake Bortles is worth a contract extension, then Mariota absolutely is.

He may never develop into an elite quarterback, and the reality is he probably won’t. That’s alright, though. Very few quarterbacks do.

Mariota can, however, spend the next 7-10 years flirting with being an above average/good starter for the Titans. That is more than enough.

It is certainly frustrating for fans whenever he throws one of his backbreaking interceptions, but you always know that another one of his signature moments is right around the corner.

And you always know, unlike in the days of Locker, Mettenberger, and Cassel’s relief appearances, that he is the undisputed quarterback of the Titans. He is the signal caller that his teammates want to fight for every Sunday.

Cover image via Titans Online.

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