JOE BIDDLE: Falcons had welcome mat out for Mariota

Tennessee Titans Football Generic
(Graphic: WKRN)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – All streaks have to come to an end. Nothing is forever.

After 186 pass completions without an interception in training camp, the legend of rookie Marcus Mariota was stopped cold by the Atlanta Falcons in both team’s first preseason game.

Those 186 completions occurred in practice. “Practice,’’ former NBA guard Alan Iverson once squealed after his coach remanded him for skipping practice. “It’s practice,’’ Iverson repeated over and over, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “It’s not a game. It’s PRACTICE. Not the game I love. It’s PRACTICE.’’

Mariota’s NFL baptism under fire was not what Titans fans hoped for. But it was no different than what many rookie quarterbacks have had to weather.

He did show his ability to bounce back after the screen pass interception by Falcons linebacker Justin Durant in the Titans first possession.

They were down 17-0 after the first quarter and Titans Coach Ken Whisenhunt decided to keep Mariota in the game. He knows the former Oregon All-American needs all the work he can get under center in preseason games.

Mariota put the Titans on the scoreboard on a 10-play drive for 89 yards in the second quarter. It was capped by a six-yard end run by veteran back Dexter McCluster.

Backup quarterback Zach Mettenberger came off the bench and led the Titans to a touchdown as they trailed 24-13 at halftime and would go on to lose 31-24.

But the story was Mariota. I like the way he can shake off mistakes. Playing quarterback in the NFL is a learning experience and the only way you can learn is on the field.

“Obviously, it was a tough start,’’ Whisenhunt told WKRN sideline reporter Audra Martin at halftime. “Two turnovers, but he came back and did some good things … We’ve got a lot of things to work on.’’

Mariota settled down before he left in the second quarter. He knows there are going to be highs and lows. This is a big boys game and Mariota will learn from his mistakes. It takes time.

Titans fans who want to make a quarterback controversy after this game might as well save their breath. Ain’t gonna happen. Mettenberger should have looked better than Mariota. He has been in the system the better part of last season and if you have to be reminded, they finished 2-14.

No, this bus is going to be driven by Mariota. For better or worse. The only way any rookie can improve is in games, even preseason games.

The speed of the game is much faster than college football. When the regular season games are played, the tempo increases even more.

Mariota will adjust. He will get rid of the ball faster. He has to fit the ball in tighter windows. He won’t have the time he had at Oregon. The Titans offensive line has to keep Mariota on his feet. A consistent running game will help take pressure off any quarterback, especially a rookie.

His numbers weren’t awful. Mariota was 7 of 8 passing for 94 yards, an 11.8 yard per completion average. He had the interception and lost the grip on the football as he was going to pass, his second turnover.

It’s going to take patience for this team to gel. There are a number of new faces on both sides of the ball. The future looks brighter than last year at this time.

As for Mariota, he now has film to study, to see the big picture and why he made the mistakes he did.

He will grow from this experience. As will the rest of the team.

Contact Sports Columnist Joe Biddle at

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