NASHVILLE – Two years ago Marcus Mariota tried to beat Tom Brady in a playoff game.
This week he will try to be Tom Brady as the Tennessee Titans prepare for Saturday’s wild card contest against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium.
Having lost his job as the Titans’ starting quarterback, one of his primary responsibilities these days is to run the scout team offense during practices in a way that helps prepare the defense for what the opponent ultimately will do. In this case, that means he must find a way to replicate the thinking and actions of one of the most accomplished quarterbacks and one of the fastest decision makers ever at that position.
“Marcus is going to have to be able to maneuver like he does in the pocket and try to re-create the mannerisms that (Brady) has,” coach Mike Vrabel said prior to Tuesday’s workout.
It is a role Mariota probably never imagined for himself, but he been imitating opposing quarterbacks for more than two months now. A starter for his first four NFL seasons and the first six games this one, his fifth, he was benched in favor of Ryan Tannehill following a shutout loss at Denver and did not see any game action before he briefly took the field for a couple snaps Sunday at Houston.
His time as starter included the Titans’ only playoff appearance of the last decade until now (2017) and their only postseason victory since 2003.
The come-from-behind 22-21 triumph at Kansas City in the wild card round led to a trip to New England for the divisional round. The Titans scored first in that one (a 15-yard pass from Mariota to Corey Davis) and put the last points on the board (an 11-yard pass from Mariota to Davis). In between the Patriots scored 35 in a row.
Mariota finished the day 22 of 37 passing for 254 yards without an interception. Brady completed 35 of 53 throws for 337 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.
“I think it came down to they were great on third down against us,” Mariota said. “We came out and played well but kind of didn’t sustain that through the game. It got away from us.”
The decision to sit Mariota in favor of Tannehill is one that helped make sure this season did not get away from the Titans. They went 7-3 with Tannehill, who finished the regular season as the NFL’s leader in passer rating (117.5) and yards per pass attempt (9.6) and who threw 22 touchdown passes against just six interceptions.
Teams and coaches consistently have lauded him for the way he handled the move.
“It’s great to see the sacrifices, the hard work that these guys put in just kind of be rewarded,” Mariota said. “So, that forever will always trump [personal disappointment]. No matter what, it’s about the team and this team winning.
“It’s been very different, and I just take it one game at a time. I don’t focus on anything other than trying to help this team win.”
The best way for him to do that is to try to make things as difficult as possible for the defense during practices. This week, that means doing his best to imitate arguably the best to ever play the position.
“I just try to give them the best look possible,” Mariota said. “That’s the most important thing. That’s kind of my role. Whatever they need, whatever little things we can see [about Brady and the Patriots] from tape, I’ll do my best to emulate that.”