NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- They labeled it a statement game, and it sure looked like one.
“When that time comes, he can lead us to the promised land. We can be a Super Bowl team,” tight end Delanie Walker said. “Is it this year? We’ll see. We’ve got to keep playing hard and win these games. ... It’s a promise that Marcus can take us there.”
Mariota is the first Titans quarterback to throw 20 touchdown passes since Steve McNair's 24 in his 2003 co-MVP season. Mariota is on pace for 33, which would put him even with Warren Moon in 1990 at the height of the Houston Oilers run-and-shoot offense.
Only George Blanda in 1961, the second year of the team’s existence, has thrown more, 36.
The Titans have evolved into a potent offense. Mariota has a 99.6 passer rating, DeMarco Murray is averaging 4.9 yards a carry, and Walker beats people up after he gets the ball in his hands as the Titans’ top target.
“It was huge for myself, Delanie and Marcus to kind of get things going,” Murray said. “And when that happens, we’re pretty special.”
They’ve now scored 36, 35 and 47 points in their last three games, the first time in franchise history producing at least 35 three times in a row in the same regular season.
After taking a knee to end it, Mariota worked his way to Aaron Rodgers. On this day, he nearly doubled up the passer rating of a veteran quarterback who has taken his team to the playoffs seven consecutive years, won an MVP and a Super Bowl MVP.
“You know, it was awesome,” Mariota said of their handshake chat. “It was somebody I have kind of watched since I was a little kid and somebody I have admired from afar. To play against him, someone of that caliber, you know was a lot of fun. ...
“It was nice to come talk to him a little bit, and he just kind of wished me luck the rest of the year. That’s kind of cool, that’s one of those good experiences I think a lot of young players get to have, and it’s special.”
“Mariota set the tone,” said Titans linebacker Brian Orakpo, who had two of Tennessee’s five sacks. “He is a quarterback on the rise, and our defense did a good job containing a Hall of Famer in Rodgers and putting pressure on him to kind of make his throws a little bit erratic.”
When Mariota is good, the Titans are good. In their five wins, he has 14 touchdowns, two interceptions, a 73.9 completion percentage and no lost fumbles.
When he’s not good, they’re not good. In their five losses, he has seven touchdowns, six interceptions, a 56.8 completion percentage and four lost fumbles.
It’s a seemingly standard formula for a team building around a skilled young quarterback early in his career.
They head to Indianapolis next week for their first rematch of the season, and nemesis Andrew Luck shredded them on Oct. 23 in Nashville.
Luck’s numbers in wins (67.5 percent, seven touchdowns, three picks) are not so distinct from his numbers in losses (60.7 percent, 10 touchdowns, four picks).
Winless in Lucas Oil Stadium since the venue opened in 2008, the Titans are once again in position to separate from the Colts.
A win would put them at 6-5 and leave the Colts 4-6.
The Super Bowl promised land is surely a ways off, but a win over the Colts and distance from them in the standings is a stop on the way that the Titans need to make -- and can make.
“He’s just amazing back there,” rookie receiver Tajae Sharpe said of Mariota. “He’s just getting better week by week, and we’re going to go as he goes. When he has games like this, we’re going to be a hard team to beat.”