Rookie Mariota struggles early as Falcons top Titans, 31-24
Tennessee rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota quickly learned NFL games are different from practice.
Mariota's first two series ended with an interception and a fumble before he recovered to lead a touchdown drive in the Titans' 31-24 loss to the Atlanta Falcons in a preseason opener Friday night.
One play after he was sacked early in his first drive, Mariota's short pass was intercepted by linebacker Justin Durant, whose 20-yard return set up a field goal. On Tennessee's next drive, the ball slipped out of Mariota's hand as he was preparing to pass. Linebacker Paul Worrilow scooped up the loose ball and raced 14 yards for a touchdown.
"I just kind of shrugged it off," Mariota said. "I figured we needed a good drive, and we finished with a good one."
"We obviously had a tough start," said Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt. "We can't turn the ball over. ... It was disappointing, but I like the way they responded."
Mariota, the No. 2 overall draft pick, went 7 of 8 for 94 yards. He entered the preseason opener with an impressive streak of 186 passes without an interception in seven-on-seven and team drills at training camp.
The Falcons led 17-0 behind new coach Dan Quinn before the Titans pulled even at 24. Michael Ford's 1-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter snapped the tie.
Atlanta's Matt Ryan completed all six passes for 86 yards on his only possession, including a 13-yard touchdown toJulio Jones. Jones had four catches for 61 yards - all in the opening drive.
"He's a beast and I'm lucky to call him a teammate," said Ryan of Jones.
LOOK AT ME, COACH
Ford, who had 11 carries for 20 yards, was one of a group of running backs who had a chance to impress Quinn asDevonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman were held out with hamstring injuries. Jerome Smith had seven carries for 25 yards. Terron Ward gained 6 yards on three carries.
Falcons: T.J Yates went 9 of 15 for 105 yards and an interception. Sean Renfree, who led the decisive touchdown drive, was 6 of 7 for 68 yards. Quinn said the competition to be Ryan's backup is still close.
Falcons: Vic Beasley, the No. 8 overall pick, started in the "Leo" defensive end position and had one tackle.
Freeman and Coleman were in uniform and ran well in pregame drills. Quinn said the two tailbacks are close to returning. LB Brooks Reed (hip) also was in uniform but didn't play. CB Desmond Trufant (sprained shoulder) was not in uniform.
Titans: LB Zaviar Gooden was driven off the field in the second quarter with a hamstring injury.
Falcons: RB Antone Smith did not return after suffering a hamstring injury on a 1-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
Titans: TE Chase Coffman led Tennessee with four catches for 58 yards. Douglas had three catches for 46 yards. RBDavid Cobb, who played behind Bishop Sankey, had 11 carries for 53 yards.