EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – In less than a New York minute, Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota proved he could take a hit.
Mariota bounced up without hesitation after getting sacked in the team’s preseason opener here against the New York Jets. It was his first action since suffering a fractured fibula last season.
Mariota’s return was the highlight in an otherwise so-so performance for the team in Saturday night’s preseason opener at MetLife Stadium. The Titans lost 7-3 to the Jets on a night when the team mixed in some bad with the good throughout.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. “It was a wake-up call for us offensively, and it’s a good example of ‘If you play like that, you’ll lose the game.”
Among the lowlights: Titans quarterbacks were sacked eight times.
“We have to get out there next time and show what the Titans are really all about,” tackle Jack Conklin said. “We didn’t do that this week unfortunately. We have to play better.”
The defense also struggled early before settling down.
The Jets scored on their first possession on a four-yard pass from quarterback Josh McCown to receiver Charone Peake to make it 7-0. While safety Kevin Byard made a pair of nice defensive stops vs. the run on the first series, the Titans allowed an early deep ball – a 53-yard completion to Robby Anderson to set up the early score.
Then Mariota made his first appearance since December 24 of last season. On the team’s first offensive play, Mariota rolled to his right and completed a 15-yard pass to receiver Rishard Matthews.
A few plays later, Mariota was sacked by Jets defensive lineman Leonard Williams, but he popped up from the ground without hesitation and on the next play completed a pass to running back Derrick Henry.
Mariota ended up playing in two possessions before being replaced by Alex Tanney in the second quarter. He completed 2-of-3 passes for 15 yards and also ran once for a six-yard gain. He was sacked once.
“It felt great (to be back),” Mariota said. “A lot of hard work was put into it and I’m very blessed for the opportunity. It was just a lot of fun, and I enjoyed the opportunity I had. I just did my best to go out there and make plays, and I really enjoyed it.”
Tanney played the bulk of the game for the Titans, after taking a big hit on his first snap, which resulted in him being replaced by Tyler Ferguson. Tanney returned the next series, however, and played through the third quarter and into the fourth quarter. Matt Casseldid not play for the Titans.
The Titans struggled on offense, largely because they had trouble in pass protection. Mariota was sacked once, and Tanney was sacked seven times and hit on several other occasions.
Mularkey wasn’t happy about the start.
“Not good enough, and that was with our veteran group,” Mularkey said. “Not good enough.”
While Mariota said it felt great to be back, he acknowledged there’s plenty of work to do.
“It was OK, but I didn’t think it was good enough,’’ Mariota said. “We had penalties, and we didn’t really build a rhythm on offense. But that’s what the preseason is for. We have an opportunity to come back, look at the film and get better.”
Titans safety Kevin Byard said the first-team defense needs to tighten up.
“I think we started off a bit slow,” Byard said. “We gave up the deep ball, and we had a couple penalties. But then I liked the way we came out on the next drive and finished it out. We forced them to punt, so it wasn’t the best start but it’s definitely something to work off of.”
Henry started in place of DeMarco Murray, who missed the game with a hamstring injury. Henry carried the ball eight times for 29 yards, and also caught a pass.
Most of Tennessee’s starters were out by the end of the first quarter, and the second half of the game was played by players battling for playing time and roster spots for the 2017 season.
Rookie receiver Taywan Taylor was one of the stars on this night. Taylor, a third-round pick from Western Kentucky, caught four passes for 56 yards, including an acrobatic catch that was initially ruled a 67-yard touchdown. Officials ruled Taylor was down by contact after a 42-yard gain, however.
The play helped set up a 36-yard field goal by kicker Ryan Succop, Tennessee’s only score of the night.
“We’ve got to be better in all three phases,” Matthews said. “Everybody, myself included, has to do better. Even though it is preseason we want to win, so nobody is happy.”