Holding on to a 15-10 lead over the Jacksonville Jaguars late in the fourth quarter this past Sunday, the Tennessee Titans had to make a play on 3rd down to put the game on ice.
The Jaguars pass rush collapsed Marcus Mariota’s pocket in what looked to be yet another busted offensive play - a sight Titans fans have grown accustomed to this season.
But suddenly, Mariota broke free of Tennessee’s conservative play-calling and extended the play by rolling outside of the tackles.
When his team needed him to make a play, Mariota delivered.
On the surface, Mariota made a smart football decision to tuck the ball and run to get a first down, all while staying in bounds.
But this wasn’t just any normal third down run for Mariota, who stiff-armed a Jaguars defender to the ground and glared back at his teammates on the sideline after he crossed the first down marker to seal the victory.
An animated Delanie Walker brags about his “silent assassin” QB Marcus Mariota and how he got chills on Mariota’s stiff arm/stare down that essentially clinched a Titans berth. pic.twitter.com/qweAnsilFD— Cameron Wolfe (@CameronWolfe) January 1, 2018
“He was juiced,” said an excited Delanie Walker after the game. “I love to see that. He was even walking up on the Jaguars. I had to pull him off. That gave me chills.”
But Mariota didn’t stop there, as he stared down Jaguars safety Barry Church afterward, the same player he shoved the ground just moments before.
“I was cold (on the bench) and then all of a sudden I was hot, because I jumped off the bench excited,” Woodyard said per the Titans official website. “Those are the kind of plays Marcus can make week in and week out to make opposing defenses very afraid of him.”
Even his head coach, Mike Mularkey, was a little taken aback by what he saw from Mariota to close out the game.
“You know me, I'm a body-language guy and I think our team fed off that,” he said via the Titans official website. “Everybody liked it. I know our sideline liked it.”
It was the type of play that reminded NFL pundits and fans why he was the No. 2 overall pick in the NFL Draft a few years back and why he won the Heisman Trophy during his playing days for the Oregon Ducks.
Despite a down year statistically, Mariota carried his team to the playoffs when his team needed a win. And Titans fans appear to have forgiven Mariota for throwing a career-high 15 interceptions this season.
Mariota's change in demeanor didn't just come out of nowhere, however, as some of his defensive teammates pulled him aside earlier in the week to tell him to take more chances and trust his legs more.
But now that the Titans are in the playoffs with a healthy Mariota, it’s time for Mariota to use this momentum and become the franchise player the Titans need him to be.
The road ahead doesn’t get any easier as the Titans take on the Kansas City Chiefs on the road in the Wild Card round, but a cold-blooded Mariota might just be the answer to Titans fans prayers.
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