NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – For the second time in as many games, Titans rookie Marcus Mariota went against another Heisman quarterback.
While Mariota was the difference in the Titans season opening win against Jameis Winston and Tampa Bay in Week 1, such was not the case Sunday against the Browns.
It was much more difficult than it looked in Mariota’s NFL impressive debut that landed him on Sports Illustrated’s cover.
He faced a more physical Browns defense that roughed up the former Oregon star from start to finish. He would have been safer sitting in the middle of the Dawg Pound than trying to evade onrushing Browns intent on taking him down.
Mariota received much more pressure from the Browns than he got from the Buccaneers. He was sacked seven times, and lost two of three fumbles. He lost the final fumble after being stripped from behind as he had the Titans on the move late in the game, trailing by two touchdowns.
The Browns had all but sealed the deal when Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel pivoted before rolling to his left and hitting an open Travis Benjamin with a 50-yard strike after Benjamin blew by Titans defensive back Coty Sensabaugh.
“It was not a designed play, I’ll tell you that,’’ Browns Coach Mike Pettine said in his post game presser. “It was a more conservative play on the other side of the field.’’
Pettine watched the play and after Benjamin scored, Browns offensive coordinator John DeFillippo, son of former Vanderbilt assistant coach Gene DeFillippo, got on the headset to Pettine.
“While everyone was cheering, Flip came on the headset and he said very calmly, ‘Coaching is overrated.’’’ Pettine said.
Benjamin struck first on the Browns second play of the game when he caught a 60-yard bomb from Manziel. Again, it was Sensabaugh who was victimized on both plays.
Benjamin racked up 269 all-purpose yards in the game. He had a 78-yard punt return for a TD and the final touchdown from Manziel.
“It was one of those great days’’ the man they call “Rabbit,’’ said after the game. “On the last touchdown, it was third and nine and I knew we had to stay on the field.
“Once I saw Johnny running left, I knew I had to get in his vision. Johnny is always looking downfield. He saw me and launched the ball. I just ran up under it.’’
Now Mariota knows what all analysts have said. NFL rookie quarterbacks have yo-yo seasons. Some Sundays they are up. Other Sundays they are humbled, embarrassed by tough nosed defensive teams.
It was 21-0 at halftime as Benjamin (there’s that name again) fielded a Brett Kern punt and picked his way up field for a 78-yard punt return touchdown 53 seconds before intermission. Benjamin hurdled over two Titans on his trip to the Titans end zone.
“I saw a crease and once I hit it, it was non-touch to the end zone,’’ he said.
Give Mariota credit for hanging in there, even after tweaking an ankle when he took a hard hit by the Browns.
He didn’t have much rhythm in the first half, even though he hit on 8 of 16 passes for a meager 71 yards. No touchdowns. No interceptions. He ran twice for 14 yards. He finished with 21 of 37 for 257 yards and two touchdowns.
Mariota settled down in the second half, getting the Titans to within 21-14 with 6:42 in the game. Then the Manziel-to-Benjamin combination clicked again, putting the Browns ahead 28-14 with 2:52 in the game.
There would be no Mariota Miracle on this day.
Contact wkrn.com Sports Columnist Joe Biddle at firstname.lastname@example.org.