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Titans, Marcus Mariota Return to Heinz Field

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Saturday night, Marcus Mariota returns to the hostile site in Pittsburgh, which is home to his worst performance as a Titan.

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

November 16, 2017 marks the date of arguably the worst game of QB Marcus Mariota’s professional career.

Last season the Titans entered that Thursday Night game with sights set on completing the sweep of the AFC North. The three previous weeks included an overtime win against the winless Browns, and two dogfights against the Ravens and the Bengals.

The Titans earned wins in each game, but by no more than seven points combined.

It took a game winning drive orchestrated by Mariota to squeak by Cincinnati, a drive that left the Titans QB a little banged up.

The key play took place with a little over one minute left in regulation. On 2nd and 2, Mariota scrambled for a five yard gain and landed directly on his face. Initially, he appeared concussed and the Titans called a timeout following the play.

After the game it was reported it was his non-throwing shoulder that was hurt.

I still am of the belief his bell was rung - and it lingered into Pittsburgh.

Prime Time Spotlight

Defeating the Bengals had put the Titans on the map, as it was their best start in nearly a decade. In order to gain national respect, a win in Pittsburgh against one of the AFC powerhouses would help the Titans case.

Instead, a nightmare performance ensued.

It was the debut of the new “SkyCam” view as the primary angle. Through that view, Titans fans were left scratching their heads on errant Mariota throws and stuttering runs in open space by former RB DeMarco Murray.

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

In Mariota’s showdown against “Big” Ben Roethlisberger, he was on the wrong side of the stat sheet. Mariota threw four interceptions to Roethlisberger’s four touchdowns.

Although the Titans defense was able to bottle up RB Le’Veon Bell on the ground, he still did some damage as a receiver by adding 57 yards to his 103 total yards from scrimmage.

The Steelers capitalized on the Titans turnovers, adding nine points following each interception.

A quick score on the first play of the second half pulled the Titans within two points - which goes unnoticed when the final score makes the game look like more of a blowout than it truly was.

Three consecutive Steelers touchdowns put the game out of reach and didn’t help the Titans build any respect as a contender in the AFC.

The Steelers’ playmaking receiver - and current Madden cover guy - WR Antonio Brown carved up the Titans secondary , generating highlight reel catches with ease.

Yes, Mariota doesn’t play defense, so how is he to blame for Brown’s monstrous night? The turnovers and inability to move the offense downfield or generate touchdowns is how.

Mariota must demonstrate his decision making has improved.

New Year, New Offense

Mariota - in typical Mariota fashion - took all of the blame for the loss and cited making “bad decisions”.

The third preseason game is holds the most weight in terms of importance. Not in terms of points, but in terms of reps. The starters typically see the most action in the third week of the preseason.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Tennessee Titans Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Mariota has played a total of three series. He marched the team down the field on the opening possession against Green Bay. It took him 12 plays against Tampa Bay to put points on the board.

Overall, Mariota has looked like a quarterback who is finding comfort in the execution of a new offense, but still has room for improvement. Some of his passes have sailed and there may has been some miscommunication with his receivers, but overall I’d say his progress is natural.

As Dan Orlovsky has already pointed out the process will take time, but once everything begins to click for Mariota, a “meteoric takeoff” should take place.

This week, Mariota hopes to make some plays and more positive memories at Heinz Field. HC Mike Vrabel has indicated we may see more from the running game this week, but expect Mariota to have his share of opportunities to make plays through the air.