Titans QB Mariota needs rest, not surgery for latest injury
Luckily for the Titans, Mariota said a neck specialist has made clear only rest is needed — no surgery — to heal nerves frayed by injuries that knocked him out of three different games this season.
"What it came down to was just allowing time for the nerve to heal," Mariota said Monday. "Unfortunately, I've had several nerve injuries throughout the course of the year, and it just left me susceptible to a bigger injury. And when it came down to it, he felt through time and some rest, the nerve should calm down and it should fully recover."
Without Mariota, the Titans lost 33-17 on Sunday night to Indianapolis to snap a four-game winning streak and miss out on the AFC's sixth and final playoff spot that went to the Colts. Mariota called sitting out "very disappointing."
Mariota consulted with spine specialist Dr. Robert Watkins of Los Angeles after being knocked out of a loss to the Colts on Nov. 18 and again after suffering another stinger to the neck Dec. 22 in a win against Washington. Mariota said the specialist reviewed an MRI exam and other tests with the decision for Mariota not to play made by both the Titans and the quarterback.
"I wasn't able to get to a point where I was ready to go," Mariota said.
Now Mariota has time to heal, then get back on the field to prove whether he deserves a long-term contract past 2019. He already is under contract for 2019 since Tennessee picked up his fifth-year option at $20.9 million. Mariota said he's not concerned about contract talks, saying he wants to stay with the Titans.
Coach Mike Vrabel said he has no concerns about Mariota, who completed 68.9 percent of his passes this season — a single-season franchise record.
"He helped us win a lot of games, and so I have full confidence in Marcus when he's healthy and available to go out there and try to win," Vrabel said. "He's done some good things."
Not having his starting quarterback for a win-and-in regular season finale was just the capper to a very bizarre season for the rookie head coach.
The Titans opened with the longest game since at least the NFL-AFL merger in 1970, a 27-20 loss in Miami that took 7 hours, 8 minutes and cost Tennessee both three-time Pro Bowl tight end Delanie Walker for the season with a broken right ankle and Mariota who missed the next two starts.
They lost not once, but twice by a point each when a receiver cut a couple days later dropped a would-be touchdown in Buffalo and then the Titans couldn't convert a 2-point conversion inside the final minute of a loss to the Chargers in London.
They finished the season with 12 players on injured reserve — five starters: safety Johnathan Cyprien, Walker, right tackle Jack Conklin, tight end Jonnu Smith, cornerback Logan Ryan and four-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jurrell Casey. Against Indianapolis, starting linebacker Brian Orakpo also was out with an injured triceps muscle.
Defensive coordinator Dean Pees guided the Titans to the NFL's No. 3 scoring defense allowing 18.9 points a game for a huge improvement from 17th last season. Pees, who spent the night at an Indianapolis hospital on Nov. 18 after leaving the coaches' booth early against the Colts, will spend some time thinking about his future.
Vrabel said he and the Titans want Pees back.
If Pees does return, he won't have Orakpo, who announced his retirement Monday after 10 seasons, the last four with the Titans. Orakpo said he leaves with the Titans well-stocked at linebacker with Rashaan Evans, Jayon Brown and Harold Landry.
Brown became the third NFL player this season to return an interception for a touchdown, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery in the same game in the finale, and he had a career-high six sacks. Landry had 4 ½ sacks.
After losing Walker, the offense struggled and finished 27th in points scored per game. Derrick Henry finished second in the AFC with 1,059 yards rushing, and he has high expectations for 2019 once so many key players heal up.
"The sky's the limit," Henry said.