Mike Vrabel downplays possibility of in-game quarterback switch

Mike Florio

During last night’s sluggish offensive performance by the Titans at Jacksonville, backup quarterback Ryan Tannehill was seen with his helmet on. After Tennessee lost the game 20-7, coach Mike Vrabel was asked how close Tannehill was to entering the game.

“Not very,” Vrabel said. “He can hear the calls when he puts his helmet on.”

Still, Mariota’s performance in the first half, during which he completed only six of 16 passes, had many wondering whether it’s time for a change at the most important position on the field. Indeed, Mariota played during the first drive of the third quarter an urgency that felt like it was sparked by an express or implied message that he was running out of chances to score points.

“I can’t start games that way,” Mariota told reporters after the game. “I didn’t help our team at all in the first half. Didn’t give our guys chances to make plays. I felt I needed to go out and try to just muster something together. I need to have that mentality throughout the season, and just give our guys opportunity to go make plays.”

One on specific play in the second half, receiver Tajae Sharpe had an opportunity to make a big play, breaking to the inside wide-ass open for what could have been an easy touchdown. Mariota threw the ball as if Sharpe was supposed to break to the outside, badly missing the target. Mariota took the blame for the missed opportunity after the game.

“That’s completely on me,” Mariota said.

Mariota’s numbers in the second half improved significantly, quieting the unrest that Titans’ fans may have been feeling after the first quarter. But that angst had to have returned midway through the fourth quarter, when Mariota didn’t seem to operate with the urgency necessary to score two touchdowns in the time that was remaining. He was slow to get the team to the line of scrimmage with the clock running, and often slow to survey the defense and get the ball snapped. As a result, the Titans never seriously threatened to stage a comeback.

Of course, it’s not all Mariota. Vrabel was happy with how the quarterback responded after intermission, and Vrabel realizes that others simply didn’t.

“I think there was a lot of guys who fought, there was a lot of guys that competed,” Vrabel told reporters after the game. “We’ll have to find out if everybody was doing that. Judging by the score, probably not the case.”

Still, at some point it will be the quarterback who pays for the lethargy of the team — especially since it can be argued that it’s partially on the quarterback to lead his teammates in a way that has all of them playing as if they’re potentially about to be benched. If Mariota can’t do that, at some point it only makes sense to let Tannehill try.