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VOL. 131 | NO. 216 | Friday, October 28, 2016

Mariota Still Searching for His McNair Moment

TERRY McCORMICK Nashville Sports Correspondent

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By the time many of you read this, Marcus Mariota might have already torched the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Does Marcus Mariota have the “it” factor seen in Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12), shown here talking with Mariota after the game Sunday, Oct. 23? The Colts won 34-26. 

(AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

Or he might not. Such is life dealing with the trials and tribulations of breaking in a young quarterback.

Seven games into his second season as an NFL quarterback and the Tennessee Titans’ projected franchise savior, we still don’t know exactly what we have in Mariota.

I was asked on radio earlier this week if I thought Mariota possessed the “it” factor that you see in franchise quarterbacks. “It” is that uncanny knack to put your team on your back when the odds are against them and will them to victory on a consistent basis.

In case the Titans needed a reminder of what a quarterback with “it” looks like, they were reminded on Sunday when Andrew Luck rallied Colts to a 10th consecutive victory against Tennessee.

So does Mariota have it, and if not, will he ever get it?

Despite flashes of becoming a trusted and reliable franchise quarterback – we last saw it on display against Detroit in week two – Mariota isn’t there yet.

Sunday’s fumble that the Colts returned for a touchdown to seal the game was another painful reminder that Mariota isn’t there yet.

But that’s not to say it can’t or won’t eventually happen.

Going back to Steve McNair’s first few seasons as a starter, there were plenty of days when he put together much uglier numbers than Mariota’s. There were plenty of fans in those early days who thought the Titans’ run-based offense with Eddie George would be in better hands with a trusted veteran – Neil O’Donnell – at the controls than enduring McNair’s inconsistencies while waiting and hoping for him to blossom.

At times, it was a long and painful process watching McNair transform himself from caretaker of the offense to the eventual playmaker he became, when the Titans finally handed him the keys to the offense.

The first evidence that McNair had “it” really didn’t happen until the final drive of Super Bowl XXXIV, when the quarterback’s heroics brought the Titans to within a yard of overtime in the title game.

At that point, delivering a near-miracle on football’s biggest stage, the Titans knew that McNair was well on his way to fulfilling the promise they believed he had when selecting him third overall in the 1995 draft. Mind you, that was four seasons, plus the postseason, before the seeds planted in 1995 began to yield the desired results.

Mariota will likely have a few more ugly moments like we’ve seen with back-foot throws sailing past receivers or out-route throws that don’t possess the necessary zip for completions outside the numbers. Unfortunately, it is part of the process that most quarterbacks go through. Very few are instant successes the way Luck and Ben Roethlisberger have been.

But if the good begins to outweigh the bad on a more consistent basis as time goes on, someday Mariota might find his McNair moment and give the Titans real hope that a window of opportunity is opening for him and this franchise to once again contend with a franchise quarterback at the helm.

In the meantime, all the Titans can do is wait, continue to improve the weapons around Marcus Mariota, tailor the scheme to fit his skills and hope that someday soon “it” all comes together.

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com.

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