NFL

Mariota helping Titans on, off field despite being benched

(AP Photo/James Kenney, File)

By TERESA M. WALKER

AP Pro Football Writer

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The Tennessee Titans benched Marcus Mariota for Ryan Tannehill in mid-October after a 2-4 start. Finding the No. 2 pick overall from the 2015 draft isn't that hard during their amazing playoff run.

Just keep an eye on the field.

The Titans (11-7) have gotten Mariota into each of their past three games with him completing a pass in two games while going out for a pass just last week. Coach Mike Vrabel makes clear they plan to keep tapping him as long as he's still on the roster.

“Well, we just like to try to have a role for everybody that’s active in the game,” Vrabel said. “And Marcus not only had a role in the game, but will continue to have a role in the game. He helped us prepare last week. I know that he’ll do the same thing this week. He’s been very supportive of Ryan, so we’ll keep finding ways for him to help us during the games.”

Mariota had a 92.3 passer rating during the regular season with seven touchdown passes and only two interceptions before being pulled in the third quarter of a 16-0 loss in Denver on Oct. 13. The Titans switched to Tannehill looking for more on offense, and they averaged 30.4 points the rest of the regular season.

That's left Mariota running the scout team, and he's helped by pretending to be Deshaun Watson, Tom Brady, Lamar Jackson and now defending NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes in practice as the Titans prepare to visit the Kansas City Chiefs (13-4) on Sunday in the AFC championship game.

“I take every single day and I try to make the most of it," Mariota said Wednesday before practice. “We have a great defense, and for me, it's an opportunity to get better. Anyway I can help this team and try to mimic or emulate what these guys are during the game, I'm going to do it. I'm just going to try to help our guys out.”

That's not all Mariota has done.

Mariota wound up on the field in the regular-season finale at Houston, throwing a 24-yard pass to rookie A.J. Brown.

“He told me (during) the week he was going to throw me the ball if he checked it,” Brown said. “I knew the ball was coming to me. He told me to score, and I was kind of gassed at the moment. I was kind of down I didn't score on that play.”

Mariota also came on the field in Foxborough, Massachusetts, during the Titans' 20-13 wild-card win over the Patriots. He completed a 4-yard pass to tight end MyCole Pruitt on the eighth play of the Titans' opening drive. Coming in for one play and one throw isn't what Mariota had been used to having started 61 of 63 games since the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner was drafted out of Oregon.

“It's different for me for sure, but I appreciate the fact that I get to be out there with the guys,” Mariota said. “Every single time, every single moment that you're on the field I never take it for granted.”

And he might've scored against Baltimore last week in the divisional round if only Derrick Henry hadn't thrown into triple coverage to Corey Davis with his jump pass. Mariota was wide open out to the right, but Davis always was the intended target.

Kansas City coach Andy Reid remembers well Mariota leading the Titans to a 22-21 wild-card win on Jan. 6, 2018, when he even caught his own pass. So Reid is well aware that the Titans can use Mariota as another option.

“That’s one of the benefits to having him there,” Reid said. “He’s a Heisman winner, he can run the ball, he can throw the ball. He’s a good football player. You’ve got to be ready for that.”

Mariota earned $20.9 million this season with the Titans picking up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract. With Tannehill and the Titans thriving together, Mariota will be a free agent March 18 with a new team in his future. Mariota says he's focusing only on one day at a time.

“If I can just be present here and help our guys out, help this team out, everything else will fall into place,” Mariota said.

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Follow Teresa M. Walker at https://twitter.com/TeresaMWalker

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Updated January 16, 2020


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