Marcus Mariota spent the last five years in Tennessee establishing a winning culture to the franchise that will continue on, even after his departure.
Whatever it takes to win. That will be the legacy of Marcus Mariota as a Tennessee Titan.
Depending on who you ask, the two-toned blue chapter of Mariota’s football career came to this unceremonious end either because of Mariota– or in spite of him.
Disgruntled Titans fans will scream that Mariota just wasn’t good enough to get the job done. They’ll say that everything was in place for him to succeed and when the chips were down he simply didn’t have the talent to make the most of the roster talent. Those people aren’t wrong, but they’re missing the bigger picture.
The staunchest of Mariota defenders will tell you that the Titans franchise failed him from the start. That they failed to protect him with poor offensive line play, failed to propel his development with constant coaching changes and failed to put him in a system where he could thrive. Those people aren’t wrong either, but they’re ignoring some of Mariota’s own faults.
I’m not here to take sides. Fans and Nashville media members have bickered back and forth for seasons now to the point where Titans Twitter started to feel more like Captain America: Civil War than a celebration of the team. But wherever the blame lies for Mariota’s Titans days coming to an end, one thing should be clear to everyone.
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Marcus Mariota took a Titans franchise stuck in the mud and brought a winning culture to the locker room and to the field.
It’s easy to remember the soul-swallowing despair that the 2015 season brought. Three wins, a mid-season coaching fire and the worst record in the NFL isn’t a season to remember by any metric. But alongside the darkness that year brought was a glimmer of hope.
The talent Mariota flashed right from the jump in his rookie season was impossible to miss. The four-touchdown, perfect passer rating pro debut from the former Oregon Duck commanded the attention of the national media, even in a small market like Nashville. The debut didn’t amount to much in terms of wins and losses that season, but Mariota’s next act would set the tone for what the Titans were about to become.
Mariota’s second year, his best year as a pro, brought the hype among the Titans fanbase to a fever pitch. The quarterback avoided a sophomore slump in the biggest way possible, earning player of the month honors and putting the team on pace for what would eventually become their first winning record since the 2011 season.
Mariota never got to take the field to celebrate the end of that surprising season. Like it has for much of his career, injury struck Mariota in the second to last game of the year, and kept him on the sidelines for the final game and in need of surgery.
Things were never the same for Mariota from that point. His box scores started to look less and less impressive as questions started to arise from the fanbase and beyond about his potential with the Titans franchise. But the one thing that stayed constant through everything, even while Mariota’s play began to backslide, was the Titans winning culture– the culture Mariota brought to the team.
Wins in the Mariota era were rarely ever pretty. In fact, a lot of the time they were downright ugly. Close games with the Titans fighting tooth and nail for every inch became Tennessee’s M.O. in the early parts of their streak of four straight winning seasons. Oftentimes they were outmatched, but it rarely ever mattered. Mariota had his team ready to fight every week, and it led to some of the best moments in recent Titans history.
Mariota’s stiff-arm on Jaguars safety Barry Church to essentially ice the Week 17 matchup against the favored division rival to sneak into a playoff spot. The come from behind Wild Card win against the Chiefs, where Mariota and the Titans crawled back from being down 18 points on the road to shock just about everyone, Tennessee fans included. The home win against the defending Super Bowl Champion Philidelphia Eagles in the waning seconds of overtime.
Mariota’s Titans made wins like this a habit. Games like those are the memorable ones, but those types of wins became regular. 2016 against the Lions, 2017 against the Bengals, 2018 against the Jets. Those last-second wins were so frequent it became harder to appreciate them, but all those wins would not have happened without what Marcus Mariota brought to the team.
The Titans are now in the capable hands of Ryan Tannehill, a role he earned in 2019. But what Marcus Mariota brought to Tennessee paved the way for the Super Bowl contender the franchise has become. Mariota calls it the ‘Aloha Spirit’, and that spirit, along with the wins it brought with it are on it’s way to Las Vegas.
Raiders Nation, you got yourselves a good one.
Thank you for everything, Marcus.