Marcus Mariota's return to Jacksonville means more to others than to him

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Elation and agony coincided on the same play, no more than a yard or two away. Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle Sheldon Day unleashed a rehearsed celebration in response to his first career sack while Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota laid still on the ground after suffering a broken right leg.

“I was definitely excited," Day said. "First one in my career, so I was definitely excited, but after I heard what happened I was kind of sad.”

Sunday marks Mariota's return to EverBank Field, where he suffered the gruesome injury last Christmas Eve. The third-year quarterback doesn't really want to talk about it. He says there are no special emotions about the stadium for him, but for a few of the people in on that play, it's still clear on their minds.

Day felt excitement, quickly followed by sadness. Rishard Matthews, the lone Titans wide receiver on the field as they deployed a three-tight end set, began to blame himself.

"I remember taking too long in my route. [Mariota] had to adjust and move around a little more. Unfortunately, it ended in his injury," Matthews said, glancing at Mariota across the locker room. "The first immediate thought was, 'Dang,' thinking that it's my fault."

It wasn't anyone's fault, just something that happens in NFL games. Day grabbed Mariota's left leg to bring him down for a sack while the quarterback's right leg awkwardly planted on the Bermuda grass field. It took a few moments for anybody to realize Mariota was hurt, but when they knew, they knew.

"Usually Marcus takes a hit, and if he's hurt, he'll still get up and play. When he couldn't get up, it hit me," tight end Delanie Walker said. "That's our leader. To see him down and get carted off the field, that hurts."

Like Mariota, Titans coach Mike Mularkey doesn't believe the location of Sunday's game carries much significance. It's more about a chance for the team to rewrite its wrongs from a poor Christmas Eve performance against the Jaguars, even before Mariota's injury.

"We didn’t play very well, left a bad taste in our mouth. That’s something, I think, for a lot of guys it lingered throughout the offseason," Mariota said of the 38-17 loss. "Obviously, we want to play better. We want to play to our potential."

As far as his leg goes, Mariota said the last and lone regular-season hurdle was playing in the opener against the Raiders. Now that it's behind him, he can focus solely on performance.

And despite the Titans' Week 1 loss, there were several positives from Mariota's performance. Titans offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie was pleasantly surprised by Mariota's effectiveness running the ball. He didn't look hesitant or impacted by his surgically repaired leg at all.

"It was good to see him turn the corner and run. In a real game, you sit down, you're nervous, thinking a little bit, 'Run him, don't run him, can he run?" Robiskie said. "That first touchdown was good to see. You can build from that.

"It obviously tells you, you can add a few things. He looked pretty good doing it."