1. I was not convinced he was the right choice when the Titans drafted him.
2. I quickly became convinced that I was completely wrong about point 1.
3. I would adopt Marcus Mariota if he needed a family. (Marcus, if you need a Middle Tennessee family, we are here for you.)
4. I believe he can lead the Titans to a Super Bowl.
That sums it up. I am well aware what his detractors say. There are a surprising number of Titans’ fans who are ready to move on from Mariota. I can’t say I agree with that perspective, but I am aware of it. When I listen to Nashville talk radio, scan Titans Twitter, or talk to fans, I encounter many naysayers.
I get it. After two seasons, Marcus Mariota looked like an up-and-coming franchise QB. Marcus Mariota was everything the team could want, both on and off the field. He put up fantastic numbers that second season; Marcus was nearly unstoppable in the red zone. He was great in the final minutes of a game. Mariota was unflappable, poised, accurate, and his numbers in the second half of that season were as good as any QB in the league. He was special.
I have a bad feeling about this…
Then he broke his leg. His next two seasons have been statistically uneven, to put it mildly. He is improving in some areas (completion percentage for example) and regressing in others (touchdowns, interceptions). He is also struggling to stay as healthy as many would like to see – though he misses far less time than the non-believers would have the rest of us believe. Yet still, even his most loyal and passionate fans (myself included) have to admit that the last two seasons have been frustrating and disappointing from a numerical standpoint.
That’s why this article won’t be about stats. Based on Mariota’s numbers the last two seasons, I can’t really present a strong defense from a statistical perspective, though I believe he has shown enough, even with the injuries to prove he is a solid NFL QB. This is not a deep-dive into advanced analytics and all that stuff. I’m going with my gut feelings on this one. I realize that is absurd to many and you have my permission to stop reading at this point. I will say, I don’t believe the facts disprove my feelings. While the facts don’t exactly bolster my feelings, I do think they can walk hand-in-hand with them.
McNair and Mariota
So, what do I feel? It’s simple actually. I’ve been a Titans’ fan since day one. I watched this team reach the Super Bowl, make the playoffs multiple times, and have a great multi-year run with a franchise QB leading the way. Steve McNair was that QB. He dealt with many of the same things Mariota deals with, missing time or playing far below 100% due to one injury after another. Yet the team was always competitive while McNair was the guy. They won more than they lost. McNair rewarded the team with multiple playoff runs, an MVP award, and one play away from taking the Super Bowl to overtime.
After McNair, the Titans took a decade long journey in the wasteland that hits almost every team without a franchise QB. I watched a team struggle, stumble, and fall apart with a rotating cast of average to below average QBs. The fortunes of this team, and most NFL teams, are tied directly to their starting QB. That is not to say the QB deserves all the credit when a team wins. But it does mean that if your team lacks a franchise-type QB, your team will probably not have any sustained success. It was a bleak time for Tennessee Titans’ fans. After a season where they were clearly one of the worst, if not the absolute worst team in the NFL, they finally had one of the top picks in the draft and they selected Marcus Mariota. From the day until now, this team has been different.
You play to win the game!
How different? Well, since Mariota was drafted, the Titans have had a winning record for 3 of his 4 years. (3 in a row if you want to get specific.) A Mariota led Titans team did something no other Titans team has ever done: they had a winning record three years in a row. Mariota led the team to the playoffs two seasons ago – and won a game! That hadn’t happened since the McNair era. Since Mariota joined the team, and they fired Ken Whisenhunt, the Titans have been competitive and competent.
Here’s my argument in its very basic form: The Titans were a 9-7 team with a QB that could barely feel his throwing arm/hand. If that is true (and it is) then how good could this team be with a much healthier Mariota? No matter what his detractors say, last year was his worst year in regards to injuries. It was a weird, fluky, unlucky set of circumstances that had Marcus struggling with nerve damage all season. I am confident that sort of thing cannot happen again. I’m not saying Marcus won’t get hurt anymore. Obviously, his track record says he will. But as far as I am concerned, I would rather have a healthy Mariota for 13 or 14 games than just about anyone else.
I am convinced that if the Titans sign Marcus long-term, his basement is what we saw last season. That’s the lowest he can go and even with that he led the team to a 9-7 season and one game from the playoffs. We haven’t seen his ceiling yet. I believe his ceiling is a very healthy season where he leads the team to 12 or 13 wins and a deep playoff run. He has the ability to do just that. He needs to stay mostly healthy to make that happen, and a fully healthy season might only happen once or twice in his career, but I am completely comfortable with that proposition. I will take multiple 9-7 type seasons with a banged up Mariota for the one or two special seasons where the team makes a Super Bowl run.
Faith, hope, and love…
Yes, there is a strong element of faith on my part here. I am hoping and believing that Mariota can stay mostly/completely healthy at least a few seasons. I could be excessively optimistic about that. If so, I am wrong and the team is never much better than they have been the last two seasons. Fine. I would rather the Titans be what we have seen the last 3 seasons than what we saw the nearly 10 seasons prior to that. If that is our fate as fans, I’ll sign up for that right now, because I am not convinced that drafting a hotshot college QB will solve anything. It could turn out great or you could wind up with another Vince Young, Jake Locker, Christian Ponder, Geno Smith, Blake Bortles, or Blaine Gabbert. We’ve already seen what a Vince Young, Jake Locker, and a Blaine Gabbert led Titans team looks like. It’s not pretty.
I’m team Mariota. All the way. From here on out. Pay him after this season unless his body falls apart and he never plays football again. I’m fine with cheering for a good kid who can win games in the clutch, even if he is often injured. I can be proud of the team that takes the field every week with Marcus Mariota under center. Proud of the product on the field as well.
I get it if you can’t get on board. I do. If you are done with Mariota because you are convinced he will never be healthy enough to take the team to the promised land, I am okay with that. Based on his injury history, it’s not an illogical stance to take. I just can’t go down that road with you. I’ve been on the road of desperately looking for “the guy” at QB. I’ve done that and it’s no fun at all. I’m fine with rolling the dice on Marcus even if it means we get 10 more years of what we have seen the last three seasons. My guess is, even if it’s mostly like that, we are bound to get one or two really special years mixed in there. That’s good enough for me.
Maybe I am being naïve. Maybe. If so, I don’t care. Marcus is my guy.
(Editor’s Note: The article has been updated and edited for clarity. Thanks to The Midday 180 for the comment which sparked the edit.)