Titans QB Marcus Mariota now taking better care of football
FILE -- In this Nov. 20, 2016, file photo, Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) throws against the Indianapolis Colts during an NFL football game in Indianapolis. The Titans have not turned the ball over in two straight games, and wide receiver Rishard Matthews says much of the credit goes to Mariota for taking good care of the ball whether in the pocket or on the run. Mariota now faces a bigger challenge Sunday visiting windy Chicago. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Marcus Mariota is showing he can take good care of the football after the Tennessee quarterback took some well-deserved criticism for too many turnovers in his young career.
Mariota and his Titans teammates have not turned the ball over in back-to-back games and in three of the last four overall; they are 2-2 in those contests.
The second-year signal caller shared the credit with all of the Tennessee offense Wednesday when asked about the improved ball security. Wide receiver Rishard Matthews pointed the finger back at the quarterback.
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''He's doing a good job making the calls, making the adjustments and getting the ball out when he needs to or taking off if he needs to,'' Matthews said. ''So it's all on him controlling the ball and everything.''
That has allowed the Titans (5-6) to improve their turnover ratio to minus-2 in a season where they've had eight interceptions and lost five fumbles. Mariota was intercepted five times through the Titans' 1-3 start, and now he has been picked off just three times over the past seven games.
Coach Mike Mularkey said ball security has been a top priority and that the Titans can't talk about it anymore than they do or practice it anymore. The coach believes experience is helping Mariota learn and improve with now 23 career starts.
''It's some of the bad experiences of what has happened because of those turnovers and the results of some of the turnovers,'' Mularkey said. ''That's a tough lesson to learn for a player. I promise you that's part of the process of him learning how to take care of the football.''
Mariota also is benefiting from better protection. He's only been sacked 18 times this season, and that's allowing him to throw the ball down the field more. He currently is tied with Andrew Luck for third in the NFL for the most completions of 20 yards or longer. Mariota has 41 such completions, seven of those for touchdowns, putting behind only Atlanta's Matt Ryan (46) and Drew Brees (42).
Chicago coach John Fox, who will look to force Mariota into a couple of turnovers when the Titans visit his Bears (2-8) on Sunday, has been impressed.
''I think Marcus is doing an outstanding job delivering the ball with still keeping emphasis in the run game,'' Fox said in a conference call.
The second-year quarterback also has thrown two or more TDs while posting a passer rating of at least 100 in nine of his 23 games. If he does it again Sunday, Mariota would be just the fourth player in NFL history to do that 10 times in his first two seasons behind Dan Marino (14), Russell Wilson of Seattle (12) and Kurt Warner with St. Louis (11).
In franchise history, only four quarterbacks have done that at least 10 times in their entire career led by Steve McNair (29), Warren Moon (26), George Blanda (17) and Dan Pastorini (10).
Tennessee is trying to stay in the playoff chase with five games left, and Matthews said having Mariota helps.
''We've been fortunate to have Marcus healthy, knock on wood, and hopefully he can continue to make plays for us,'' Matthews said.
Notes: The Titans gave RB DeMarco Murray (toe) the day off Wednesday. LT Taylor Lewan (left knee), CB Brice McCain (knee) and TE Phillip Supernaw (concussion) also did not practice. Mularkey said Lewan is being evaluated daily and hope he can play Sunday. … The Titans announced a $25,000 donation to The Woodmore Fund for the families of the victims in the Chattanooga bus crash that killed five children Monday. They also will wear a helmet sticker ''W.E.S.'' for Woodmore Elementary against the Bears.
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