Titans QB Mariota needs legs to beat Chiefs

The Sports Xchange

January 03, 2018 at 4:56 pm.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Hobbled or not, Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota added the running element back to his game last Sunday.

Mariota rushed for a season-high 60 yards in the Titans’ 15-10 victory over Jacksonville that clinched a playoff spot.

Despite issues this season with a hamstring injury, a knee injury and his recovery from a fibula injury, Mariota’s ability to gain yards with his legs helped the Titans seal the victory, punctuated by Mariota’s stiff arm of the Jaguars’ Barry Church to finish off a 13-yard run that allowed Tennessee to run most of the clock out.

Now, the question becomes how much can the Titans rely upon Mariota to run in the playoffs, beginning with Saturday’s wild-card game against the Kansas City Chiefs. Mariota said Sunday’s runs were just doing what had to be done and taking what was there.

“Really, I think it just kind of came down to how they were playing us, ” Mariota said. “For me, it just depends week-to-week. I do whatever it takes to win and yeah, just kind of depends on how teams are playing us. If the opportunity is there, I do my best to make the most of it.”

It could also be construed as a sign that Mariota is healthier now than he was a couple of months ago, when the running element was conspicuously absent from his game.

“At this point in time, every guy is probably not going to feel 100 percent. It’s just that time of the year,” Mariota said. “With the magnitude of these games, you’ve got to win these games. You’re going to find a way to make a play and hopefully help your team win.”

Titans head coach Mike Mularkey agreed with that assessment and says that it is a matter of doing what is necessary to win games and move forward.

“We’re at that point right now when every man needs to do whatever he can, whatever it takes, to make this thing go,” Mularkey said. “It was good to see what he did the other night. Obviously, it helped us win the football game. I think it helped him gain a little confidence too that he can do more.”

Truth be known, Mariota’s rushing stats this year are actually not far off what he did last year when the read option and scrambling to make big plays out of broken plays were key elements of his game.

A year ago, Mariota ran 60 times for 349 yards with two touchdowns. This season, Mariota has 312 yards rushing on the same 60 carries, but has five rushing touchdowns.

SERIES HISTORY: 52nd all-time meeting. Chiefs lead series 29-22, including two wins in as many playoff meetings over the Oilers/Titans franchise. Strangely enough, the Titans have won four of their last five games in Arrowhead Stadium, including winning there last December on former Chief Ryan Succop’s 53-yard field goal as time expired.

–In his first attempt at being the Titans’ featured back, getting 28 carries against the Jaguars, Derrick Henry was not satisfied with his 51-yard performance. Henry, who also had a 66-yard touchdown on a screen pass, had negative runs on his first three carries, including a 12-yard loss.

“I didn’t feel like a workhorse back,” Henry said. “I kind of felt soft. I’m not happy about that game at all. It hasn’t left my mind since the clock hit 0:00.

“That’s why I’m working hard this week, trying to get better than I was last week and looking forward to this game on Saturday. I just feel like I didn’t run like myself. I wasn’t really happy. I could say other words, but I have to play better.”

–Safety Kevin Byard continues to be a bright spot for the Titans in his second season, finishing the year with eight interceptions (including the playoff-clinching pick with 10 seconds left) after getting two more Sunday vs. Jacksonville. Byard also had two fumble recoveries this season as he was the NFL’s top ball magnet with 10 takeaways in 2017.

But, he says, all that pales in comparison to playing in the postseason.

“I would say my confidence is pretty high right now,” Byard said. “But I know going into the playoffs that none of that matters right now. The only thing that matters is getting a win.

“If we don’t win, all the year that I’ve had is for naught. I’m about going out there and trying to play my best football.”

NOTES: RB DeMarco Murray did not practice with his sprained right knee and probably will miss Sunday’s game. … CB Logan Ryan missed Wednesday’s practice due to illness. Ryan made it through the game last week on an ankle injury that kept him out of practice all week. … RB Derrick Henry called his first test as a workhorse back “soft” after he ran for just 51 yards on 28 rushing attempts vs. Jacksonville. … CB Brice McCain missed another practice with a hamstring injury sustained in Sunday’s win over the Jaguars. … CB Da’Norris Searcy missed Wednesday’s practice due to illness. … CB Kalan Reed has practiced this week and is expected to be cleared from concussion protocol. … TE Jonnu Smith has practiced this week and is expected to be cleared from concussion protocol.