NASHVILLE — Marcus Mariota’s benching for Week 7 against the Los Angeles Chargers felt like an inevitability after last Sunday’s 16-0 loss at Denver. A four-year (plus six games) reign as the quarterback for the Tennessee Titans, in all likelihood, has come to an end.
Wednesday at Saint Thomas Sports Park after the news was made official felt a bit morbid. The mood was that of remembering someone whose life had been lost. Nothing that happened with the Titans and Mariota is anywhere close to that severe, obviously. But, there was still something unnatural, though, about watching new signal-caller Ryan Tannehill, whom the team traded for this offseason as an insurance policy, take snaps with the ones at practice Wednesday.
But will anyone else besides the team’s offensive line take ownership of the blame?
Three consecutive winning seasons is something no other quarterback had accomplished in Tennessee. Certainly, no one else drafted or brought in by the team within the last decade had anywhere close to the success. Mariota helped guide the Titans into the 2017 playoffs and facilitated the upset of a substantially better Chiefs team on the road. Surprising victories over both the then-defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles and beating up on a visiting New England Patriots team were some of his finest work.
There are also pitfalls to the Heisman winner, of course, that necessitated a change.
Inexplicable inaccuracy from one game to the next and inconsistency damned Mariota. A revolving door at offensive coordinator (one for each year of his professional career) topped by injuries that robbed him of fundamental development contributed. A supporting cast early on in his career that could barely populate an AAF roster hindered him, as well, through no fault of his own.
Mariota’s career will be viewed as a disappointment by most, especially in the way that it ended.
“We’re trying to get a little spark,” coach Mike Vrabel said. “I’m trying to evaluate what we’re doing and how we’re functioning as an offense. I wanted to give (Tannehill) some time with Taylor (Lewan), and kind of Nate’s (Davis) progression and kind of what we’re doing. It just felt like now was the time. Sitting at that game, sitting where I was, made the decision during the game, and then just was able to think about it, evaluate and move forward and make a decision to try to spark the offense, to try to do something to get us going, to score some points and to help us win.”
Mariota sparked Tennessee in a way many before him failed to do. The spark, though, never came to full ignition.
Quarterback failure demanded the opportunity to let Tannehill either succeed or flounder with the same cast. The franchise that drafted Mariota shoulders just as much blame; both things can be so. Speaking to the man whose hire was supposed to maintain some semblance of consistency, first-year offensive coordinator and long-time Titans staffer Arthur Smith, there was an odd tiptoeing around the subject. Accountability is constantly preached at Saint Thomas Sports Park from general manager Jon Robinson, to Vrabel and on down the line.
But to acknowledge Mariota’s failure in any way would be to acknowledge the failures of this staff, the ones that came before it and the organization as a whole. Complimenting the character of the player fails to cover up the direct correlation to the negligence, incompetence and insufficiency of those who were tasked with helping him.
— Buck Reising (@BuckReising) October 17, 2019
“Until the day that I die, I’m going to believe I gave it all I got. No matter what, I can learn and grow from this situation. This isn’t going to bring me down. This isn’t going to end my career,” Mariota said. “I had an opportunity to play but I didn’t make the most of it. I am going to learn and grow from it.”
So, how should Mariota be remembered?
While he may never again lead Tennessee’s offense out on Sundays, Marcus Mariota’s efforts to breathe new life into a franchise that was drowning in irrelevancy should never be forgotten. The unfulfilled promises of those who were supposed to help him certainly will not be.
Featured Image: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports.