News came out this morning that Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota is still dealing with a hamstring and ankle injury from months ago. The QB has struggled mightily this season for a number of reasons, but deductible reasoning would tell us that these injuries are still playing a big part in his performance. He just hasn’t been right since the whopping the Titans took in Houston.
Mariota has been sheepish about using the injuries as an excuse for his poor play. It’s not in his nature. In each interview when he is asked about his health, he simply says that he doesn’t want to use it as an excuse. When asked percentages, though, he’s never said he’s back to 100 percent. He’ll say he’s close, but he won’t say he’s completely back. For a guy who doesn’t say much in press conferences or to the media, we’re required to read between the lines a bit, and I’ve been reading that he’s been playing hurt all year. The degree to which that is the case is unknown, but it’s quite obvious.
Over the past several weeks, Mariota has put up some of the worst numbers in his career. He went as far to say that it’s the toughest stretch he’s had to go through in his football career on 104.5 The Zone’s Wake Up Zone this morning. He’s been throwing off of his back foot, sailing throws, and sometimes just completely missing wide open receivers or not seeing a linebacker in the middle of the field who picks off his pass.
Since the end of the game on Sunday, each interview that Mariota has done with the media has had a somber and angry tone. It’s the opposite of what we usually see from the QB on a weekly basis. He’s usually the most even keel guy on the team, never letting his emotions get the best of him. It seems as though the Arizona game was the turning point, though, and we’re seeing a bit of a new Mariota.
To this I say: In order for a quarterback to play effectively through an injury, there has to be a toughness about him. There has to be a fire inside him and a confidence so deep that he expects to perform at his best no matter the circumstances. Something must come over him that allows him to transcend the injury, and I wonder if that’s what we’re seeing in Mariota this week.
The circumstances and the schedule ahead of the Titans allow for the possibility of a magical run. If that’s what they’re wanting, they’re going to have to start this week in San Francisco, and it’s going to start with Marcus Mariota. He’s going to need the “Screw it, I’m going to do whatever it takes to win” mentality through the final stretch. He’s going to need to not just play through his injuries, but play well through them, which hasn’t been the case this season.
I’m hopeful that this new Mariota that we’re seeing in the media brings about a new level to his play. I’m hoping some fire is lit inside him to come out and prove people wrong about him this season. The rubber is finally meeting the road with him. He’s never endured this kind of football adversity in his young career. We have crossroads in some aspect of life, and now it’s Marcus Mariota and the Tennessee Titans’ turn.
It’s been a tough stretch, but if Mariota can find a way to pull himself out of this slump in the final three games, he can become the hero that Nashville sports have been missing since Steve McNair and Eddie George. This final stretch can be the birth of a legend in Nashville. Mariota has the tools to be just that, but does he have the “it” that comes with the tools? We’ll see.