NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The first 55 minutes didn’t matter. The Tennessee Titans gave Marcus Mariota the ball in a game that they should’ve secured a quarter earlier and asked him to bring a win home. And like a true franchise quarterback, Mariota put his head down and did it.
The Titans stretched their winning streak to four on Sunday with another tight but mistake-laden victory, 24-20 over the Cincinnati Bengals. Mariota led the Titans on a 12-play, 73-yard drive that ended with a passing touchdown to DeMarco Murray, who fought through multiple Bengals defenders to get in the end zone for the final of his season-high three touchdowns.
Mariota finished the day 25-of-44 for 264 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. He also added 51 rushing yards. He went 5-of-8 for 53 yards and a huge 5-yard rush for a first down on that final drive. Mariota hurt his left shoulder while being tackled on that run, but refused to exit the game.
“If I can walk, I can play,” said Mariota, who enjoys those pressure situations. It was his seventh career game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime, and his third this season. Mariota said after the game his shoulder was OK.
“That’s just who he is,” coach Mike Mularkey said.
What it means: The Titans remain in first place of the AFC South with a 6-3 record, which goes a long way toward their playoff goals. We saw some of the ups and downs within the game that have defined the Titans for much of the season, but they once again showed their grit. There are still mistakes to clean up and improvements to be made, but this looks like a playoff team.
What I liked: The creativity and explosiveness of the Titans’ offense, particularly in the first half, was among the best we’ve seen this season. It was a good day for offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie.
The Titans’ defense played well for most of the game with many of the usual playmakers — Wesley Woodyard, Kevin Byard, and the duo of Logan Ryan and Adoree’ Jackson — limiting the Bengals to 53 rushing yards and 1-of-10 on third-down conversions. Derrick Morgan had two fumble recoveries. Brian Orakpo had a strip sack. It was a strong performance, except for …
What I didn’t like: Two huge coverage mistakes led to Bengals touchdowns. On the second one, A.J. Green took a slant route 70 yards to the house after Ryan missed the pass breakup and Byard missed the tackle. It nearly cost the Titans the game.
Tennessee’s offensive line didn’t have a good day. Mariota was sacked four times and he didn’t have the time needed to get a consistent rhythm going in the second half. This unit is the core of the Titans and it needs to be better. And Rishard Matthews has to catch easy touchdown throws.
Fantasy fallout: Murray had his best fantasy game of the year, primarily because of his three touchdowns. His yards-per-carry average wasn’t good (3.0), but fantasy owners won’t care about that. It was a decent day for Delanie Walker, too, with six catches for 63 yards.
Rule change request: Corey Davis will learn from his rookie mistake, reaching for the pylon too early on his would-be first career touchdown that was changed to a fumble and touchback after review. But that rule shouldn’t exist. The punishment doesn’t fit the crime. If Davis fumbles and the ball goes out at the 1-yard line, it would be the Titans’ ball there. Why is there a change of possession just because the ball bounced a yard forward? Davis will have to own the mistake, but hopefully the NFL looks into changing this rule in the future.
What’s next: The Titans have a quick turnaround, playing at Pittsburgh on Thursday. Mularkey is a big proponent of rest, so Tennessee will likely go light on practice and adding new scheme tidbits. This will be a matchup of two likely AFC playoff teams.