ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Tennessee Titans entered their showdown with the Dallas Cowboys on Monday Night Football stuck in a three-game losing streak with their offense struggling and in danger of falling out of the race in the AFC South.
Embattled quarterback Marcus Mariota and the offense had produced 31 points during the losing streak, but after an ugly start that included two early turnovers, Mariota and the offense found their groove on Monday. The dual-threat QB showed flashes of his playmaking ability, throwing for two touchdowns and rushing for a third in an impressive 28-14 road win that lifted the Titans to 4-4 and second place in the AFC South behind Houston (6-3).
If kicker Ryan Succop hadn't miss a 28-yard field goal, the Titans would have matched their point total from the previous three games.
Most importantly for Tennessee: Mariota took a step forward in his development with a big game on a big stage, completing 21 of 29 passes for 240 yards and helping the Titans convert 11 of 14 third-down attempts. His 9-yard touchdown run all but sealed the game late in the fourth quarter.
"This was an all-out effort by everybody," Mariota said. "We've just got to take it week to week."
his best throw was the kind of pass that top-level quarterbacks make. The play came on a third down with 10 yards to go in the second quarter. Mariota read the defense and saw a window opening down the field before unleashing a beautiful throw between three defenders to wide receiver Darius Jennings for a 36-yard gain. It was a sign of how he trusts his receivers, even after they make a big drop.
"For him to be able to make the throw on that play, that speaks volumes to Marcus' confidence in him and Darius' being able to take the top off the defense," head coach Mike Vrabel said. "When guys have a drop, they come back and they work. They stay positive."
After seven games, it seems like Mariota and his receivers are finally starting to get on the same page. Even tight end Jonnu Smith chipped in with a touchdown reception on a shuffle pass. It was Smith's first touchdown of the season.
"I think we are learning and growing as an offense," Mariota said. "We are all kind of figuring out where those spaces are and who we are sending. Really, it's when to expect the ball and when to throw it ... unbelievable catches on third down. If we can do that consistently, I think we will be alright."
The ball was being thrown to spots before the receivers made their breaks, which was a major factor in the success on third down. Leading up to the game, Mariota thought he was getting in sync with his pass-catchers.
"If there's a miscommunication, we're just talking through it," he said Wednesday. "Whether it's outside of it, right before meetings or maybe after meetings, just going through plays and certain situations. These guys are curious and are always asking questions, which I think is really beneficial for all of us. If we can kind of get on the same page, I think we'll be fine."
The Titans also saw the running game get on track with 125 yards against a physical Dallas defense. Finding balance kept Dallas' defense guessing, and offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur took advantage.
"It was tough in the beginning, but we just stuck with it," said running back Dion Lewis. "It helped the passing game. As an offense, we just have to keep working."
The offensive outburst is encouraging for a Titans team that will need to score plenty of points next week when it plays host to the New England Patriots.