Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (8) throws during the first half Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Tampa , Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
TAMPA, Fla. — Marcus Mariota shuns comparisons to Jameis Winston, insisting a budding rivalry between the rookie quarterbacks is more about team success than individual play.
Well, one game into their pro careers, the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner has the upper hand in both after throwing four touchdown passes Sunday to lead the Tennessee Titans to a 42-14 season-opening victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The highly anticipated debuts for the first two players selected in this year's draft was one-sided from the start, not unlike many of Mariota's dazzling performances in college at Oregon.
Mariota threw for 209 yards without an interception to join Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton as the only players to throw for four or more TD passes in their first NFL game. Tarkenton did it for Minnesota against the Chicago Bears on Sept. 17, 1961. Mariota became the first to do it in the opening half.
Winston, No. 1 overall pick and 2013 Heisman winner, did something rare, too, becoming the first quarterback since Brett Favre in 1991 to have his first NFL pass intercepted — by cornerback Coty Sensabaugh — and returned for a touchdown.
Mariota, meanwhile, teamed with Kendall Wright on a 52-yard TD play less than two minutes into the game and also had TD throws of 12 yards to Bishop Sankey, 4 yards to Harry Douglass and 1-yard to Delanie Walker to build a 35-7 halftime lead.
The Titans, who didn't score more than 28 points in any game while going 2-14 last season, scored on four of five possessions in the opening half. Mariota led another TD drive to make it 42-7 midway through the third quarter.
By the start of the fourth, Mariota's workday was complete, a position he often found himself in after compiling big numbers early while authoring a 36-5 record as a starter at Oregon.
Winston, like Mariota, played down the personal rivalry angle in the days leading up to the game. The quarterbacks also met once in college, with Mariota-led Oregon trouncing Winston and Florida State 59-20 in last season's national playoff semifinals. It was the only loss Winston suffered in 27 starts at Florida State.
Sensabaugh, a Kingsport native starting in place of injured Titans cornerback Jason McCourty, picked off a sideline throw and ran 26 yards for a TD. Although Winston threw a 5-yard TD pass to Austin Seferian-Jenkins and teamed late with the second-year tight end on a 41-yard scoring play, he never established a rhythm throwing the ball.
Mariota finished 13-of-16 passing with no interceptions. He was sacked twice before being replaced by backup Zach Mettenberger with 14:49 remaining in the game.
Winston was 16-for-33 for 210 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. The Titans sacked him three times.
Winston and Mariota are the sixth pair of quarterbacks to be taken with the first two picks in the draft, joining Jim Plunkett and Archie Manning (1971), Drew Bledsoe and Rick Mirer (1993), Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf (1998), Tim Couch and Donovan McNabb (1999), and Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III (2012).
The Titans snapped a 10-game losing streak dating to last season. The Bucs have lost 10 straight home games, nine of them under second-year coach Lovie Smith.comments powered by Disqus