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Titans' Marcus Mariota shows more encouraging things despite disastrous loss

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- His two interceptions were killers, leading the Indianapolis Colts directly to two touchdowns.

But Marcus Mariota hardly undid the Tennessee Titans single-handedly on Sunday during their ugly 35-33 loss to Indianapolis at Nissan Stadium.

“He did a good job of catching our disguises,” Colts safety Mike Adams told my ESPN.com colleague Mike Wells. “We caught him a couple of times, but didn’t capitalize. For the most part he did a good job of reading when we bluffed and then he found the holes. I give him credit for that.”

The Titans' rookie quarterback played the Colts Andrew Luck to a virtual standoff, which is a big accomplishment for a kid in his third NFL game against a high-quality veteran who was in a virtual must-win situation.

And virtual standoff is underselling, really. A game is about a lot more than comparing quarterback stat lines, of course. But Mariota and Luck each had two touchdowns, two interceptions and three sacks.

The rookie threw 14 more passes, completed nine more, and finished with 107 more yards.

And after the Titans blew a 13-point lead with 2:51 to play and needed to drive to a touchdown to have a chance, Mariota led a nine-play, 80-yard touchdown drive in 2:04.

I like that coach Ken Whisenhunt thought the Titans should be able to punch it in from the 1-yard line after a penalty for the two-point conversion to set up overtime, though the Colts blew up Jalston Fowler’s predictable run.

The coach said the team is building an identity where it believes it can run for a yard in any situation.

Which is great when it comes to fruition, though right now I’d say the offensive identity is: Mariota can make plays, and thus he should probably get the chance in the biggest moments.

Mariota has work to do, for sure.

Before Sunday, he hadn’t thrown a pass that traveled farther than 18 yards. Against the Colts he hit on just two of seven throws that traveled 20 yards or more and threw one of his interceptions. Protection and weapons factor in, but that's an area where he needs to be better.

Still, in a league where so many teams are desperate for glimpses that their quarterback can pan out, it would take a major reversal, of course for Mariota not to be a guy Tennessee can build around.

“He’s a good quarterback and he’s going to be a great quarterback for a lot of years,” said safety Dwight Lowery, who collected both the interceptions, scoring with one. “He does some really special things.”