Marcus Mariota and DeMarco Murray played starring roles as the Tennessee Titans raced out to an early lead and cruised to a 36-22 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars to kick off Week 8. Here’s what we learned on Thursday Night Football:
1. The Titans have scored 26 or more points in four consecutive games for the first time since 2003, per NFL Research. At 4-4 with a dominant ground attack and an improving young quarterback, they have to feel like the perennially underwhelming AFC South is theirs for the taking at midseason. The offensive line rivals Dallas’ as the league’s finest, a rejuvenated Murray is on pace to flirt with his 2014 Offensive Player of the Year numbers and Mariota’s production matches that of any quarterback over the past month. After a mistake-prone start to the season, Mariota is 77 of 112 (68.8 percent) for 949 yards (8.5 YPA), a 10:1 TD-to-INT ratio and 120.7 passer rating over the past four games.
Those statistics are slightly misleading, as Mariota has missed too many easy throws over that span. Still, it’s easy to see the second-year quarterback is progressing by the week, growing more comfortable with an exotic smashmouth offense that mixes in zone-read concepts and designed quarterback runs from the shotgun. If Mariota holds onto those gains, Tennessee will be playing in January.
2. An international audience tuned in to see shocking regression from Blake Bortles after he set franchise records for passing yards and touchdowns in a promising second season, but Thursday night’s first-half woes were nothing new. Bortles’ throwing mechanics have devolved to the point where he hasn’t moved the chains outside of garbage time since the victory over the Colts in London four weeks ago. The hitch in Bortles’ delivery is so extreme that it’s starting to become a mental issue, evidenced by short throws into the dirt when targeting wide-open receivers.
“I don’t know where it came from or why,” Bortles acknowledged to CBS analyst Phil Simms, “but my motion’s getting longer.”
This is an issue that goes back to Bortles’ rookie-year struggles. With the aid of sports biomechanics guru Tom House, he fixed the problem in the offseason of 2015, only to backslide late this summer. The box scores don’t begin to tell the full story of a troubled passer who can’t muster any semblance of offense until the opposing defense slacks off with a comfortable fourth-quarter lead. On the hot seat or not, coach Gus Bradley can’t continue to allow his quarterback to hold the team hostage for much longer. The 56th-ranked player on The Top 100 Players Of 2016 list is broken. He needs time to repair his throwing motion and restore his confidence.
3. The Browns might be the league’s only winless team, but the Jaguars are the most disappointing outfit in pro football at midseason. Fans have patiently gone through a rebuilding process that has followed summer hype with autumn faceplants. Owner Shad Kahn spoke to the team Monday, and the players responded with a performance as listless as any we’ve seen this season. By halftime of Thursday night’s game, Tennessee had accrued 20 first downs and 27 points while Jacksonville had run just 22 plays. The Titans‘ 354 yards were the most any team had generated in the first half all season.
“I’m seeing a team tonight that has quit,” Hall of Famer Deion Sanders declared on CBS’ halftime show.
After the game, Bradley conceded, “The first half was inexcusable … I don’t have any answers. Not a lot to be said other than it wasn’t good enough, obviously.”
Bradley’s .255 winning percentage is the worst of any qualifying head coach in the Super Bowl era. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported this week that Bradley has the rest of the season to stake his claim because Khan isn’t the type of owner to make an in-season change in leadership. If the team makes a habit of no-showing like they did against the Titans, Khan will be pressured to adjust that policy.
4. To be fair, the blame goes beyond Bortles and Bradley. The offensive line has been pushed around, the running backs aren’t breaking tackles and the receivers — particuarly 2015 breakout star Allen Robinson — are dropping too many passes. The defense put on an embarrassing tackling display against Murray and Derrick Henry, surrendering 225 yards and two touchdowns on 42 touches for the Titans‘ backfield duo. The Jaguars were also hit with three personal fouls by halftime, with combustible rookie Jalen Ramsey as the primary culprit.
5. If the streaky Titans do end up atop the AFC South, first-year general manager Jon Robinson will receive consideration for NFL Executive of the Year. Acquired from the Eagles in March, the tone-setting Murray is on pace for over 1,900 yards from scrimmage and 16 touchdowns. Bolstered by stalwart first-round right tackle Jack Conklin, the offensive line has been every bit as dominant as Mularkey and Robinson hoped when they installed a power-running attack designed to bully smaller defenses. Already constructing a deep roster, Robinson will have the luxury of extra first- and third-round 2017 draft picks from last offseason’s Jared Goff blockbuster with the Rams.
What we learned: Mariota, Murray star in Titans’ win – NFL.com