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Protecting Marcus Mariota brings the nasty out of Titans

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee Titans left tackle Taylor Lewan was helmet-to-helmet screaming in Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman's face. For a moment, it was unclear what would happen next. Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota had been laid out on a late hit by Sherman. A scrum ensued. No one would have been shocked if punches had started flying. This was Lewan -- and he doesn't play games when it comes to his quarterback.

Eventually the situation was diffused, with a surprising call of offsetting penalties. The Titans' offensive line had sent a message. They'll do just about anything to defend their quarterback.

"Marcus is our guy. We're going to protect him no matter what," Titans right tackle Jack Conklin said. "That got us fired up."

It was one of the few times that Mariota was touched by the Seahawks' defense on Sunday. The Titans' offensive line didn't allow a sack or a quarterback hit inside of the pocket in their 33-27 win. It was an impressive effort against a stout Seattle defensive line.

This was easily the offensive line's best performance of the season, as it made gaping holes to spring the running and screen game throughout the second half. All five of the offensive linemen -- Lewan, left guard Quinton Spain, center Ben Jones, right guard Josh Kline and Conklin -- had good games paving the way for 195 rushing yards and keeping the pocket clean.

Titans coach Mike Mularkey was proud of his offensive line for defending their quarterback and was a little surprised that no one got ejected on that play.

"Do they think we're going to take that? There's no way we're going to take that. We'll never take that," Mularkey said. "I'll be disappointed if we don't retaliate when someone does something like that."

Physicality and toughness have been calling cards for the Titans this season. They still remember the consequences of failing to protect Mariota. It was just last year that Mariota suffered his broken leg on a routine sack. They want him for 17-plus games this season.

As he often does, Mariota took the high road. He told Sherman, "Good hit," after the play and noted afterward that it's "part of the game."

Sherman said he believed that Mariota was still in bounds when he made his hit.

"I’m not waiting until you took two steps out of bounds. It’s a game of inches, and you can’t give up anything, and it’s just one of those plays. It’s football," Sherman said. "It seems like the world is getting a lot softer in terms of the way it’s officiated and the way it’s seen."

The Titans didn't feel that way, as they fell short of calling it an intentional dirty hit but noted that it was unnecessary and late. Fortunately for the Titans, the response became more important than the hit. It showed how important Mariota is to his teammates.

For that, Mariota felt "very humbled," and he admitted that he appreciated the effort of the guys defending him. It's a reaction he has earned due to his presence on and off the field. And it won't go away anytime soon.