One of the biggest plays from the Tennessee Titans’ come-from-behind victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday took place in the third quarter: On a 3rd and goal from the 6-yard line, Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota scrambled to his left to buy time and threw a pass towards the end zone, only to see it batted down by cornerback Darrelle Revis.
However, the pass never fell incomplete as Mariota reacted quickly. He was able to catch the deflection and take it in for a score. Mariota had just caught his own pass for a touchdown. Suddenly, Tennessee only was down by 11 points - and had the momentum on its side. The fifth-seeded Titans would go on to upset the Chiefs on the road with an improbable 22-21 victory.
As the quarterback, Mariota played as big a role as any Titan in the comeback win and his third quarter score exemplifies what kind of player he is. “He’s very strong and athletic enough to extend plays, whether that’s buy time for the receivers to get open, throw on the run or in some cases advance the ball himself,” New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said about Mariota in a recent conference call.
Belichick’s team will face the former first-round draft pick on Saturday, when the Patriots host the Titans in the divisional playoff round. And the future Hall of Famer knows that the opponent cannot be taken lightly despite his team being the heavy favorite to advance to the AFC Championship Game - and it all starts with Mariota, who completed 19 of 31 pass attempts in Kansas City for 205 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
For Belichick, Mariota’s success starts with his intelligence: “He’s a smart player. They give him quite a bit of responsibility. He can, obviously, handle it well.” New England’s head coach also is aware of the fact that this intelligence also is reflected in the decision-making process - even though it has not always been perfect this season. During the regular season, Mariota threw a career-high 15 interceptions compared to a career-low 13 touchdowns.
However, the 24-year old also scored five touchdowns as a runner, the best mark of his three-year NFL career. Belichick, true to form, looks beyond the stats, though. “Mariota’s had a good year,” he said before adding that he thinks Mariota’s performance speaks for itself - as does his sound decision making: “That goes in the red area, third down and out in the field. He’s a smart player that has good judgment, makes good decisions.”
On Saturday, the Patriots will see Mariota’s decisions first-hand. They need to ensure that not all of them turn out to be good ones if they want to reach their seventh straight conference title game. Just like they need to make sure batted down passes also reach the ground.