The Las Vegas Raiders went with a completely different offense when Marcus Mariota entered last week’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers.
In so doing, they gave their backup quarterback the chance to show that he is the same guy the Tennessee Titans selected second overall in the 2015 NFL Draft and who won the Heisman Trophy at the University of Oregon.
“That was tough on Marcus, tough on our team, tough on the offensive line, tough on our skill guys,” coach Jon Gruden said this week. “We switched gears. We went to a completely different world offensively in a lot of places.
“Mariota still proved he’s a dual threat. He’s obviously very sharp. He can handle a lot of situations. And if need be, he’ll be ready again.”
Mariota replaced the injured Derek Carr late in the first quarter and threw for 228 yards and one touchdown and ran for 88 yards and another touchdown. Only once in his four-plus seasons as the Titans’ starter did he rush for more yards in a game, and there were just three games in which he rushed for more than 50 yards and threw for more than 225. It was the eighth time in his career he had at least one touchdown rushing and passing in a single contest.
Saturday, the Raiders (7-7) host the Miami Dolphins (9-5) in this weekend’s first chance for Tennessee to secure a third playoff appearance in four years (7:15 p.m., CST, NFL Network). If Las Vegas beats Miami, the Titans are in the postseason.
Whether Mariota or Carr will be the quarterback for the Raiders is unclear. Carr practiced during the week, but Gruden remained non-committal about his plans for that position.
It is now obvious, though, that Las Vegas has the potential to change things if the offense struggles to move the ball.
“I thought Marcus did a great job,” Carr said. “With how we practice and how (Gruden) does things with me … I take every rep at practice, all season. That’s how we do things. We practice that way. For him to go into the game and do some of the things that he did was unbelievable. … He comes out, now we’ve got some zone-read type different things. He’s running with the football. (The defense) doesn’t have time to prepare for that. They have to make adjustments on the fly.”
The Raiders made Mariota the NFL’s highest-paid backup quarterback when he signed a free-agent deal with them early in the offseason. A pectoral injury landed him on injured reserve at the start of the season. He was returned to the active roster on Oct. 20 but did not play for the first time this season until last week, when Carr limped off the field late in the first quarter with a hamstring injury.
The incentive-laden contract earned Mariota an additional $825,000 based on his playing time against the Chargers, who ultimately beat the Raiders 30-27 in overtime. And his performance earned him the admiration of the guy he replaced – and might do so again.
“As a fan of his, from afar, watching what he went through, I was just happy,” Carr said. “I didn’t want to get hurt it to have to happen, but I was happy to see him play and have success. I know he had a long year with certain things that happened in Tennessee, with injuries and all that kind of stuff.
“This game is tough and sometimes you go through things. So, to see him … lead our team, it was awesome.”