Who is the real Marcus Mariota?

Tennessee Titans

Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota had an incredible Week 4 performance against the Atlanta Falcons, 10 days after not even looking like an NFL-caliber quarterback against a division rival.

It feels like figuring out Marcus Mariota is an impossible task. This is a make-or-break year for the former Oregon Ducks icon, yet Mariota remains shrouded in mystery. One week, he looks like a lost cause. And then the next week, he looks like the man to lead the Tennessee Titans franchise for the long haul.

Not long ago, Mariota threw for over 3,400 yards and 26 touchdowns as a second-year quarterback. A year later, he helped lead the Titans to the postseason in a team accomplishment that just about nobody saw coming.

Since then, Mariota has struggled, just as the entire Titans organization has. The Titans have gone through many different offensive systems, head coaches, and coordinators, and they’ve also struggled to find the right weapons to surround their young quarterback.

Last week, Mariota didn’t look like the poised, accurate, athletic quarterback drafted as the No. 2 overall pick in 2015. He didn’t look like a quarterback who had made any progress in his fifth NFL season. Instead, Mariota looked absolutely lost and confused against the Jacksonville Jaguars defense, only racking enough garbage time throws to somewhat salvage a stat line. Thanks to Mariota’s poor decisions, baffling accuracy, and inability to read a division rival’s defense, the Titans never stood a chance.

But 10 days later, Mariota bounced back in a huge way. Yes, he was taking advantage of a struggling Atlanta Falcons defense, but even Atlanta’s elite players, such as top cornerback Desmond Trufant, looked powerless to stop the 25-year-old passer.

Mariota was masterful, completing 18 of 27 passes for 227 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions to potentially sour his day. The Titans offense – not the Falcons offense – looked explosive in Week 4, making full use of promising rookie wide receiver AJ Brown’s gifts. Brown caught two touchdown passes, and even former top 10 pick Corey Davis got into the act with a touchdown catch of his own.

Accurate and confident, Mariota led the Titans to a 24-10 victory while outdueling Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and the Falcons offense. He put the Titans in cruise control, just as he did in Week 1 against the Cleveland Browns vicious and relentless pass rush.

This was a huge rebound performance from his poor displays in Week 2 and 3, but it leaves fans just as confused as they were before his all-important 2019 season started.

Who is the real Marcus Mariota? Is he the quarterback who looked like a breakout star in his second season and just torched the Falcons? Or is the guy who couldn’t move the chains against the Jaguars, threw more interceptions than touchdowns in 2017, and couldn’t average more than 180 yards per game in a pass-happy league last season?

What Mariota needs to do is be consistent, because a string – or even just one – of poor performances could spell the end of his time in Tennessee with Ryan Tannehill lurking. Perhaps Mariota’s rebound performance against Atlanta is a sign that Mariota feels the pressure and is responding well, since his intangibles have always been worthy of praise. If so, that’s an important sign for the Titans, because they have an outside shot of doing some damage in the AFC South this season.

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But that all hinges on Mariota, who is clearly playing for his future this season. Not only is he playing for the opportunity to remain Tennessee’s quarterback of choice beyond 2019, but, if they decide they’ve had enough playing the guessing game, he’s auditioning for a more consistent organization to take a chance on him in 2020.

Right now, it’s hard to make a call on exactly how good Mariota is as a quarterback. At his best, he’s crisp. At his worst, he’s a hot mess. And if he lies somewhere in between, that simply isn’t good enough for the Titans or any other team, especially at a position that pays premium and demands premium. In 2019, Mariota has to develop consistency, and this strong performance against Atlanta needs to be a sign of things to come – not another leveling of the scales after a nightmare performance in the previous week.

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