Marcus Mariota struggles in 12-7 Titans loss to Cardinals
GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Marcus Mariota's answers were clipped, many one word. His facial expression changed minimally, a quick raise of the eyebrow or lip before giving an answer after his performance against the Arizona Cardinals.
The Tennessee Titans lost a game they should have won and their quarterback shouldered most of the blame.
"Frustration is an understatement," Mariota said following Tennessee's 12-7 loss to the Cardinals on Sunday. "Defense played lights out, special teams did their job, and I've been hurting our team. I've got to find ways to be better."
The Titans (8-5) entered tied with Jacksonville atop the AFC South after winning six of their previous seven games. All they had to do was beat the struggling Cardinals (6-7) to stay in the division lead, maybe move a game ahead if the Jaguars couldn't get past Seattle.
Tennessee couldn't get it done. Jacksonville beat the Seahawks to boot.
Not a great first trip to University of Phoenix Stadium.
"At the end of the day, we didn't play very well," Titans tight end Delanie Walker said. "Our defense held them to field goals and if you can't put points on the board, obviously you can't win game."
Mariota starred as a redshirt freshman for Oregon at the 2013 Fiesta Bowl, his last trip to Glendale, leading the Ducks to a 35-17 victory over Kansas State. He was mostly ineffective against Arizona's defense, struggling with his aim and not nearly as mobile after tweaking his knee in the first quarter.
Tennessee's run game, which moved up to seventh in the NFL last week, was almost nonexistent, contributing 65 yards on 22 carries after a season-high 198 yards last week. The Titans finished with 204 total yards to fall a game back in the division.
"Defense played out of their mind the whole game," Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. "We had a chance to win the game because of our defense. Special teams wasn't good enough, and neither was our offense."
After a punt-filled first quarter, the Titans put together a nine-play, 50-yard scoring drive, capped by Derrick Henry's 6-yard TD run .
Tennessee's offense then went back to sputtering.
The Titans took a gamble in the third quarter, attempting a fake punt that appeared to work. Upon review, the officials changed the spot, leaving Tennessee short of a first down.
Arizona took over at the Titans' 35-yard line, setting up Phil Dawson's second field goal, from 23 yards to cut Tennessee's lead to 7-6.
"We should have got it and I thought we got it," Mularkey said. "I don't know how it got overturned. With all those bodies, I don't know how they saw it. I question that immensely, that overturn."
The Titans moved into Arizona's end of the field on its second drive of the third quarter, but a miscommunication with receiver Rishard Matthews turned into an interception by Tramon Williams.
Mariota's second interception, with Tennessee trailing 9-7, was his fault.
Trying to squeeze a pass into Walker, he didn't see Josh Bynes drop back into underneath coverage. Bynes snared the ball and returned it 25 yards to Tennessee's 15, setting up Dawson's fourth field goal, a 35-yarder that put Arizona up 12-7.
"That's on me. I didn't see him under there," said Mariota, who threw for 159 yards on 16 of 31 passing.
The Titans got the ball back twice in the final 3:45, but were forced to punt once, and turned it over on downs.
Defensively, the Titans were effective pressuring Blaine Gabbert, sacking him eight times, even with outside linebacker Derrick Morgan injured. Tennessee was good in the red zone, holding the Cardinals to four field goals and a miss on another.
It wasn't good enough, thanks to the Titans' wobbling offense.
Now the Titans will remain in the desert to figure out what went wrong, practicing this week at Arizona State University to prepare for Sunday's game against San Francisco.
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