CLEVELAND (AP) Marcus Mariota’s back was reddened from body blows, his left ankle swollen. On one play Sunday, Tennessee’s rookie quarterback lost his helmet, one of his cleats and the football.
One week after a stellar debut, he barely survived his second NFL game.
Mariota threw two touchdown passes in the second half but was sacked seven times and the Titans gave up Johnny Manziel’s 50-yard touchdown pass to Travis Benjamin with 2:52 left in the Browns’ 28-14 win.
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The Titans (1-1) also gave up Manziel’s 60-yard TD pass to Benjamin on Cleveland’s second play and the Browns wide receiver burned them for a 78-yard punt return in the first half. Benjamin gashed Tennessee for 269 all-purpose yards in helping the Browns (1-1) win just their third home opener since 1999.
Mariota finished 21 of 37 for 257 yards, but he fumbled twice and spent much of the day scrambling from trouble or looking up from his back after a hit.
It was quite a contrast from last week, when he threw four first-half touchdowns, recorded a perfect passer’s rating and became the toast of the league in his first pro game.
”You understand this is a tough league and you can get beat anytime,” Mariota said. ”We understood that going in. I could have made a lot more accurate throws and could have been better with the football. But I’ll learn that and get better.”
Mariota threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Fasano in the third quarter and his 13-yard strike – on fourth down – to rookie Dorial Green-Beckham with 6:42 left brought the Titans within 21-14. But the Browns moved the ball to midfield before Manziel, showing some of his Johnny Football magic, connected with Benjamin on the back-breaking TD.
Needing two scores, Mariota drove Tennessee inside Cleveland’s 20 in the final minute but was sacked and stripped by defensive end Armonty Bryant.
Mariota figured the Browns would do all they could to disrupt him and they succeeded. He was constantly under duress, and unlike last week against the Buccaneers, Mariota showed his inexperience by trying to do too much.
”For the most part we knew where their pressures were coming from,” he said. ”They did a good job of just kind of executing their game plan. It’s a tough league, week in and week out you have to prepare.”
Mariota received some extra treatment on his ankle following the game, and believes he’ll be ready for the home opener next week against Indianapolis.
Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt said he had to alter the offensive game plan in the second half because of Mariota’s limited mobility.
”I was incredibly impressed with how he handled himself,” Whisenhunt said. ”The man’s a fighter. He showed a lot of poise, he showed a lot of character in that second half. Obviously his ankle was bothering him a little bit and he still made a lot of plays.”
Tennessee’s defense didn’t make enough.
On his first pass, Manziel faked a hand-off, dropped back and hit a streaking Benjamin, who got behind cornerback Coty Sensabaugh for a quick score that ignited Cleveland’s crowd and gave the Browns’ second-year QB a confidence boost.
Later, after the Titans had fought their way back, cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson didn’t stay with Benjamin, who raised his hand after seeing Manziel get outside the pocket and hauled in the game-clinching score.
Whisenhunt had warned the Titans about Manziel’s ability to improvise, but they failed to stop him on the game’s biggest play.
”We lost contain on that play, that’s one of the things I said during the course of the week,” Whisenhunt said. ”If you lose contain and he gets out of the pocket, he can hurt you.”
For everything that went Tennessee’s way last week at Tamp Bay, the Titans’ trip to Cleveland left them feeling empty.
”Things didn’t go our way,” Whisenhunt said. ”Too many self-inflicted wounds and penalties that put us in bad situations. At least we fought in the second half and have something we can build off.”
NOTES: G Chance Warmack left on crutches and was wearing a brace after spraining his right medial collateral ligament in the first half. Warmack, the No. 10 overall pick in 2013, doesn’t know how he got hurt. He will undergo an MRI on Monday. … Fasano had five catches for 84 yards. … RB Dexter McCluster had 98 yards on 10 carries.
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