3rd and 5 at their own 44 yard line, the Titans had the ball with a 15-10 lead and just 2:13 left on the clock with the franchise’s first playoff berth in nine years hanging in the balance. Marcus Mariota drops back and looks to his favorite target Delanie Walker. Covered. Sensing pressure from the back side he steps up and escapes left. A quick pump fake to Derrick Henry and a nifty juke move make Defensive Player of the Year candidate Calais Campbell whiff. However, as he looks up field he has two unblocked defenders standing right in front of him with 8 yards to go and no blockers to help. Mariota switches the ball to his left hand and after a quick hesitation move he sends Barry Church in to another dimension with a vicious right-handed stiff arm. A hustling Quinton Spain takes care of Telvin Smith for him and Mariota’s speed does the rest before he smartly slides down in bounds to let the clock run down to the two minute warning.
As he bounces up from the slide a visibly fired up Mariota flips the ball and then glares in to his own sideline as if to say “I got this, follow me”. As he stormed back towards the huddle a comment from Jaguars safety Barry Church catches his ear and he turns his glare towards Church and walks up on him. It’s clear that the normally chill quarterback has had enough of the Jaguars’ trash talk for one day.
Its easily the most swagger and fire that we have seen from Mariota in his three years as the Titans quarterback and the play itself will be the lasting image of one of the most important wins in the history of Nissan Stadium. The young quarterback has had several memorable moments in his three years in Nashville — the 87 yard run against the Jaguars, his diving flip in to the endzone against the Jaguars, the gorgeous dime to Matthews in the back of the endzone against the Bears, the no-look touchdown pass to Walker against the Chargers all come to mind — but I would argue that this is his first iconic moment for this franchise. The stakes were high, the opponent was tough, and the result was the ending of a 9 year playoff drought.
He even struck the exact pose of a certain trophy he won 3 years ago while doing it.
That play may not have happened if it weren’t for a conversation Mariota had with a couple of the Titans linebackers in the week leading up to this game. Brian Orakpo and Wesley Woodyard sought out their quarterback and encouraged him to just go out there and make plays as John Glennon detailed in his piece after the game. You have to love two of the leaders on defense going out of their way to inspire one of their teammates on the other side of the ball.
With all the frustrations of this season building up and the season hanging by a thread, he put the offense on his back and carried them out of danger. His play on that big 3rd down and his reaction after the play fired up his teammates.
“He was juiced. I love to see that. He was even walking up on the Jaguars. I had to pull him off. That gave me chills.”
— Delanie Walker
“I was cold and then all of a sudden I was hot, because I jumped off the bench excited.”
— Wesley Woodyard
“You know me, I'm a body-language guy and I think our team fed off that. Everybody liked it. I know our sideline liked it.”
— Mike Mularkey
Mariota’s even-keeled personality is well-known and respected at this point, but the emotional response he showed when the game was on the line certainly resonated with his team and this fan base. I don’t think anyone would mind seeing more of that from him in the next few weeks. If this Titans team goes on to make some noise in the playoffs, we will all look back at Mariota’s 13 yard run on 3rd and 5 as the spark that lit the fire.