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New Falcons QB Marcus Mariota has to 'carve my own path' after Matt Ryan's run in Atlanta

ATLANTA -- The Falcons need a full-time starting quarterback other than Matt Ryan for the first time since the 2007 season, and Marcus Mariota understands the significance of potentially being that replacement.

"Those are big shoes to fill, no doubt," Mariota said Friday. "I think, for me, something I definitely learned over the course of my career is that you can't compare yourself to other people. What Matt did here, what he's accomplished here, is truly greatness, and for me, I just have to kind of carve my own path.

"I appreciate what he's done, appreciate what he's been for this organization, and the best thing that I can do is try to put my best foot forward and be the best player that I can be."

The 28-year-old Mariota is walking into a potential starting role -- although he said he hasn't been guaranteed the job -- for the first time since the 2019 season, when he was the quarterback for the Tennessee Titans and their then-offensive coordinator Arthur Smith, who is now the Falcons' coach.

Mariota was benched in favor of Ryan Tannehill that season and eventually moved on to the Las Vegas Raiders, with whom he backed up Derek Carr for two years. He played in 11 games over the past two seasons, completing 60% of his passes for 230 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

The No. 2 pick in the 2015 NFL draft, Mariota spent five years with the Titans, playing in 63 games with 61 starts and completing 62.9% of his passes for 13,207 yards and 76 touchdowns with 44 interceptions.

His final season with the Titans was a struggle, though, as he completed 59.4% of his passes for 1,203 yards and seven touchdowns with two interceptions in seven games. By the end of his time with the Titans, Mariota said he was "mentally and physically beat up," and he said he has learned a lot over the past three seasons.

"During my time in Tennessee, we went through a lot of different things. I went through coaching changes, went through a broken ankle, some of these things that people would call adversity," Mariota said. "At that point in time in my career in 2019, I was tired. I was just kind of tired of all the turnover, was tired of being beat up, and I wasn't playing well, and at the end of the day, this is a performance-based business, and when you're not playing well, things happen, and I understood that.

"These last couple of years for me was a great reset. I got a chance to take a step back, learn, and I feel like I have and these experiences have created a lot of value for me."

Part of what attracted Mariota to the Falcons is Smith, who he believes will always be honest with him. With the Titans, Mariota said he wasn't communicating to Smith enough and was just "trying to do whatever I could to please the coach."

Now, Mariota said, he expects the communication will be better because of the things he learned with the Raiders. Smith said Wednesday that part of why he wanted to bring Mariota in was because of the trust they had with each other.

"There's been a lot of growth from him and myself. Ironically, they're completely different players, but Ryan Tannehill was in this situation when we got Ryan," Smith said. "So Marcus is a high-end talent just like Ryan was. He was a first-round pick. He's in a different spot in his career, and I trust Marcus, and Marcus, he's going to come in here and he's going to give us everything he's got.

"He's got a high-end talent, and he understands what's happened in the past. He's learned from them, I've learned from them, and we feel excited about the opportunity."

Should he win the job, Mariota will be the Falcons' first different starting quarterback since Oct. 27, 2019, when Matt Schaub filled in for Ryan because of injury. He would be the first full-time starter other than Ryan since another former Oregon quarterback, Joey Harrington, essentially had the role for the majority of the 2007 season.

Mariota, who will wear No. 1 in Atlanta because his traditional No. 8 is being used by the Falcons' top receiving target, tight end Kyle Pitts, said the team reached out to him once there were conversations about Ryan being traded. Mariota said Smith asked if he wanted to come in if Ryan, who was traded to the Indianapolis Colts on Monday, decided to leave, and Mariota was intrigued.

Soon after, Mariota was a Falcon.

"At the end of the day, it was just more excitement about the opportunity to be here," Mariota said. "To be with Arthur."