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Marcus Mariota's gutsy performance sparks Titans

By The Sports Xchange
Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) is chased by New England Patriots defensive lineman Lawerence Guy (93) as he scrambles in the first quarter of the AFC Divisional Round on January 13, 2018 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. Photo by Matthew Healey/UPI
Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) is chased by New England Patriots defensive lineman Lawerence Guy (93) as he scrambles in the first quarter of the AFC Divisional Round on January 13, 2018 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. Photo by Matthew Healey/UPI | License Photo

Following Sunday's gritty 9-6 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Tennessee Titans moved into a place where few had expected them to be given the circumstances that they have been through in the first three weeks of the season.

The Titans, short-handed as they are with injuries, find themselves at 2-1 overall and 2-0 in the AFC South, as quarterback Marcus Mariota came off the bench -- limited as he was Sunday -- and helped will the Titans to a victory over division favorite Jacksonville.

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Mariota, still playing without feeling in two of the fingers on his throwing hand, replaced a concussed Blaine Gabbert in the first quarter, and proceeded to hit on 12-of-18 throws for just 100 yards, but also ran seven times for 51 yards, including a couple of key first downs.

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On Monday, Titans head coach Mike Vrabel was still praising the gutsy performance of his less-than-100 percent quarterback.

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"Make no mistake about it, Marcus came in and won the football game. We wouldn't have won the game without Marcus," Vrabel said. "That was really cool to see, it was cool to see him come in and compete for his team, to win the game. Not only throwing the football where he had to, but making some plays with his legs. It was a great win. We can thank Marcus for that one."

Vrabel acknowledged that Mariota's spark was undeniable, and that he possesses the type of intangibles that make teammates want to play better for him, despite numbers that don't necessarily stand out from a statistical perspective.

"I think that when you do those types of things, I think your teammates rally around you. They play a little harder for you," Vrabel said.

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Vrabel said Mariota still is limited and could be for a while as the Titans attempt to cobble together a game plan that can suit him in the interim, beginning this week against the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles.

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"There's just really certain throws that he can't make right now. So, we'll work our way through that, whatever those may be," Vrabel said. "When he improves, we'll be able to do some more things with him. He'll talk with Matt [LaFleur], and we'll figure out the best game plan for us going forward."

Vrabel is hopeful that Mariota will improve enough to add a little more to his plate in terms of what the Titans can dial up from the playbook, assuming his arm improves enough during the week.

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"Hopefully this week, the whole package will try to come back. That remains to be seen. It's Monday. So hopefully, we can get more than what it was last week," Vrabel said.

With Mariota playing well when thrust into an emergency role after Gabbert's injury, signs would seem to point to the Titans having to go back to him as the starter, even at less than full capacity this week.

Gabbert is in the concussion protocol, something that will continue to be evaluated through the week.

NOTES:

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QB Marcus Mariota came off the bench in the second series, and while he only threw for 100 yards, he added a much-needed 51 yards rushing on seven scrambles in helping the Titans top Jacksonville.

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QB Blaine Gabbert is in the league's concussion protocol, following a hit by Jacksonville's Malik Jackson that was flagged for a personal foul. Gabbert's status for this week is uncertain.

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OT Jack Conklin, who has yet to be active this season, increased his workload last week and might reach the point where he could be active this Sunday vs. the Eagles. Conklin has been out since undergoing ACL surgery on his left knee in January.

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CB Adoree' Jackson is in the concussion protocol after being hit hard on a punt return. He did not return to the game after the second-quarter hit.

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DE Jurrell Casey is off to one of the best starts of his career with three sacks in three games already this season.

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S Kendrick Lewis has yet to be active for a game because of a foot injury, but was back and practicing last week. He could be active this Sunday.

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S Dane Cruikshank had his second big play on special teams in as many weeks. Against Houston, he scored a receiving touchdown on a fake punt. Sunday against the Jaguars, he blew up a Jacksonville fake punt attempt by stringing the ball carrier to the outside until teammates could arrive and stop the play short of the first down.

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LB Rashaan Evans, who played just one special teams snap last week against Houston, played 18 snaps and started at inside linebacker against the Jags.

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