TERESA M. WALKER, AP Pro Football Writer
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — An unnecessary roughness penalty for a blindside hit wiped out Marcus Mariota’s interception. The Titans quarterback managed to fall on the ball after simply dropping it on handoff.READ MORE: 'Big Brother' Debuts Wednesday in a Special 90-Minute Live Event
His third mistake counted and couldn’t have been more costly Sunday.
Mariota fumbled when sacked, and Robert Mathis picked up the ball and ran 14 yards for the clinching touchdown in a 34-26 loss to the Indianapolis Colts . This latest loss leaves the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner and No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft just 2-8 on his home field for his career with his latest turnover bringing that total to 19: six fumbles and 13 interceptions.
Tennessee coach Mike Mularkey said the key is protecting the ball better.
“That’s one of the things we have to stop doing,” Mularkey said.
The Titans (3-4) trailed 27-23 when they got the ball at their own 25 with 1:55 left and a timeout. A perfect moment for Mariota to follow up his winning performance of a week ago against Cleveland.
On the first play, T.Y. McGill came through the Titans’ line where Brian Schwenke replaced starting left guard Quinton Spain, who was carted off the field in the second quarter. McGill stripped Mariota of the ball , which Mathis grabbed for the easy TD with 1:47 left.
“I was trying to step up in the pocket and make a throw to the left,” Mariota said. “They moved from the pressure, probably could have moved away from it. It was one of those things that was kind of perfect timing for him. I was separating my hands to throw the football. He just kind of poked at it and ended up knocking it out.”
Josh McNary’s hit on Titans tight end Delanie Walker wiped out Patrick Robinson’s interception late in the third quarter, and Mariota later dropped the ball in the same drive for a 9-yard loss to end the quarter. But Mariota capped the drive with a TD pass.
Mariota finished throwing for 232 yards and two touchdowns. But the Titans quarterback was streaky, opening the game completing his first five passes with the last a 10-yard TD pass to left tackle Taylor Lewan. Then he missed five of his next six passes, throwing too high. He sailed a pass to Andre Johnson on third-and-1 in the second quarter.
The quarterback took the blame, noting he also missed Rishard Matthews on a deep pass down the field.READ MORE: "The Challenge: USA" Brings Together Former Competitors from "Survivor," "Big Brother" & More
“Again, that really was on me,” Mariota said. “I mean I just missed throws in the pass game, especially on third down. We can’t be missing those opportunities. We’ve got to continue to move the chains, allow us to either score points or pin them deep.”
Mariota completed passes to seven different receivers counting Lewan.
Tight end Delanie Walker, who caught a 7-yard TD pass that tied the game at 20 early in the fourth quarter, thinks Mariota was trying to throw to him before fumbling and said the quarterback might be taking too much of the blame for the team’s offensive struggles.
“He only plays one position,” Walker said. “We all go to do our part.”
With the loss, the Titans missed a chance yet at their longest winning streak since 2011. They wrap up a three-game home stand Thursday night hosting Jacksonville and still searching for both ball security and offensive consistency with the second-year quarterback.
“With what happened (Sunday), guys are hungry to get back on the field,” Mariota said. “It’s an opportunity to get back on track and get rolling again.”
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