NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Marcus Mariota will scratch one big item off his list Sunday when the quarterback plays in his first regular-season finale with the Tennessee Titans.
The playoff one is still up in the air.
Mariota has been criticized heavily for backsliding in his third season, and Tennessee (8-7) heads into the weekend with just as many victories as it managed with Mariota a year ago before a season-ending injury cost him a chance at his 16th game of 2016. But one more win against AFC South champion Jacksonville and the Titans are in the postseason for the first time since 2009.
“All I really care about is winning,” Mariota said. “When it comes down to it, yes I would have liked to play better throughout the year. But, we have an opportunity. We have a chance to go in the playoffs and then get in the tournament. That’s all you really want to do. When the offseason rolls around, obviously I’ll find ways to improve and get better from it. But, right now my main focus is just going there and winning this game with these guys.”
Sitting out a 16-10 loss in Miami on Oct. 8 already means Mariota will have to wait until 2018 to prove he can survive a full 16-game schedule. But he is aware of the significance of his first season finale.
“I want to be able to be available every single game,” he said Wednesday. “I think being able to play in this one, I’m looking forward to it.”
The No. 2 pick overall out of Oregon and 2014 Heisman Trophy winner set very high expectations for his third professional season with a handful of stats like posting the sixth-highest passer rating for a quarterback in his first two NFL years. He trailed Kurt Warner, Dan Marino, Nick Foles, Russell Wilson and Ben Roethlisberger in that category.
Mariota still has yet to be intercepted inside the red zone, and only Andrew Luck has a higher passer rating inside an opponent’s 20 since 2015. But Mariota entered this season with 33 TDs in that area of the field, and he has added only six more.
Worse, Mariota has 15 interceptions with only 12 TDs this season after throwing 26 TDs with nine interceptions. Mariota has been intercepted at least twice in four games.
“A few of those have been bad decisions,” Mariota said. “Others have been miscommunications, and that’s on my end. That’s things that I can grow from, and I’ll get better from.”
Titans coach Mike Mularkey is glad to have Mariota available for the first time in Week 17. For those wanting to measure Mariota against his first two seasons, Mularkey brought up how his quarterback is coming off a pretty significant injury. Mariota could not put weight on his right leg for approximately eight weeks after surgery last offseason.
Mariota also has played after straining a hamstring, hurting a shoulder and a knee.
Mularkey notes Mariota is the franchise’s first quarterback to throw for at least 3,000 yards in back-to-back seasons since Steve McNair in 2002 and 2003.
“For the most part, been pretty pleased,” Mularkey said. “Would we like him better? Obviously, we all would.”