Trailing 10-0, the Titans got the ball for the third time and went no-huddle. It sparked the most efficient play from the first-team offense: a nine-play, 81-yard touchdown drive that culminated with a pretty touchdown throw and catch in the second quarter of a 26-16 loss.
Mariota faked a handoff, rolled right and threw on the move to Harry Douglas, who was heading for the right sideline beyond the pylon in the end zone. He caught it with safety Kurt Coleman in pursuit.
"It was a great job by everybody," Douglas said. "Great throw by Marcus. Great job by the O-line. Great job by Andre [Johnson]. I think a couple guys went with him, they left me wide open, and all I had to do was complete the catch."
En route to the score, Mariota hit on four passes to Tajae Sharpe and one to Douglas. He handed off twice to DeMarco Murray, and he bought himself room on an 8-yard scramble with a pump fake that froze linebacker Thomas Davis.
A week earlier, the Titans had success with the no-huddle against San Diego. They used it on their third possession, on which Mariota made a good call at the line and adjusted the blocking assignment for Douglas and watched Murray take a handoff 71 yards for a score.
"For the most part, I think the entire offense is comfortable in it," Mariota said of the no-huddle. "I’ve kind of lived in that realm for a long time, so I feel kind of comfortable operating in it. It makes it a little easier for us. We can kind of go and push the tempo as fast as we want or slow down and dictate how we play.
"I think if we can do that on a consistent basis, both in the no-huddle and huddling up, we can be pretty good offense."
The question when no-huddle works well is often: Why not jump straight into it?
The answer is typically that it needs to be a changeup. In order to benefit from the increase in tempo and the shorter breaks between plays, the defense has to have experienced both slow and fast paces.
"We have it," coach Mike Mularkey said. "It's a way to attack a defense whenever we want to do it. However, we want to use it -- to start a series, to get us out of a rut, to start the game. We have many ways we'll use it. We've had it planned out where we're going to go to it, and it's worked well the last two weeks."
QB depth chart: Mariota threw a flat-footed interception to Bene Benwikere to kill a good first-quarter drive. It was his lone miss in 10 attempts, and he recovered with a nice rollout touchdown pass to Douglas later. Mariota continues to find Sharpe, who pulled in six passes on six targets for 68 yards. In relief, Matt Cassel was 5-for-7 for 38 yards and an interception. Alex Tanney finished it off.
Maybe that player could start: No one who isn't in line to start did anything in this game that screamed, "I should start."
Who got hurt? Linebacker Curtis Grant needed attention in the fourth quarter but limped off on his own. Mularkey said Grant twisted an ankle and was the only injury of note.
A surprise player who impressed: New offensive linemen Dennis Kelly saw his first action with the Titans. He was acquired from Philadelphia in the trade for receiver Dorial Green-Beckham and threw a couple good blocks for Derrick Henry while working as the second-team right tackle. Kelly also made a mistake that let a defender force running back David Cobb to move quickly on a play on which he lost a fumble, Mularkey said.
When it was starters vs. starters, the Titans looked ...: OK. The Panthers were the better team, which is what you'd expect when one team isn't far removed from going to the Super Bowl and the other isn't far removed from the first pick in the draft. The Panthers drove to an easy touchdown on the game-opening drive and picked off Mariota on their first defensive series. The frontline Titans responded to bad developments on both sides pretty well.
One reason to be concerned: Antwon Blake, who came into the game ranking as the team's fourth cornerback, struggled. With Jason McCourty (minor hip strain) and Perrish Cox (ankle) out, Blake started. Another newcomer, Brice McCain, has talked about how he likes to control a route by playing up on a receiver. But Blake played, as Titans corners have frequently in recent years, with a big cushion. He missed a tackle on Ted Ginn Jr. on what turned into a 61-yard catch and run for a touchdown.
Backup linebackers shine: Sean Spence tipped a Cam Newton pass on a third-and-3. Grant flew out of nowhere to tackle Newton a yard short of a first-down run. David Bass had a backfield trip up of Cameron Artis-Payne for a 1-yard gain on a third-and-3. Three backup linebackers made first-half plays of note, a good sign about the Titans' linebacker depth.
Misdirection: The Titans have shown a good share of slow-developing misdirection in the run game. It looked better against San Diego than it did against Carolina. Sharpe got swallowed up for an 11-yard loss on a reverse that started with a fake to Murray. Delanie Walker got 6 yards on a Statue of Liberty play, the second one the Titans have run in two games.