Vrabel didn't consider replacing Mariota with Tannehill

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Amid the downpour of rain and wayward pigskin heaves from Marcus Mariota during Thursday night's 20-7 Tennessee Titans' loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, backup quarterback Ryan Tannehill slid his helmet on while standing on the sideline.

With Mariota struggling worse than a bus with four flat tires, some believed the sight of the backup QB with his helmet on stretching while the starter sat on the bench in a ballcap might mean a signal-caller swap was coming. Not so.

At the change of possession, Mariota popped up and returned to finish his depressing outing.

After the tilt, coach Mike Vrabel said he wasn't very close to making a quarterback switch.

"Not very. He just can hear the calls when he puts his helmet on," Vrabel said explaining why Tannehill was wearing his helmet, via the team's official transcript.

The explanation for the helmet is logical. Vrabel, however, wasn't pressed further on if a QB change could be coming down the road. The next day, he told reporters that they're not looking at a QB change right now.

Thursday's performance from Mariota is a classic case of the box score lying.

Some who didn't watch the rain-soaked tilt might see that Mariota threw for 304 yards, no turnovers, and assume that looks acceptable. They'll see he took nine sacks and assume a protection problem led to his 57.5 percent completion percentage on 40 attempts and no touchdowns. They'll assume he got no help from his running game (Derrick Henry just 44 yards and one TD).

Assumptions. You know the saying.

The truth is Mariota scuttled from the start, missing short throws, long throws, throws to the outside, throws over the middle. He missed high. He missed wide. He missed short. He never found the aim the entire first half as the Titans got down 14-0 to sixth-round rookie Gardner Minshew.

"I've got to find that out because I can't start games like that," he said after the tilt. "You know, I didn't help our team at all in the first half, didn't give our guys chances to make plays and I felt I need to go out and just muster something together. I've got to continue to have that mentality throughout the season and just give our guys opportunities to go make plays."

The streaking rain during the second quarter didn't help matters, but even if it were 70 degrees and sunny, Mariota's play would have brought storm clouds.

It's true he didn't have a ton of help from his offensive line, especially guard Jamil Douglas -- starting for injured Kevin Pamphile -- getting clown-suited repeatedly by Calais Campbell. Holding penalties became a killer. Mariota also ran into several sacks and held onto the ball far too long at times.

"Yeah, I mean, when you're not able to sustain drives and get opportunities in the red zone, it's hard to score points," Mariota said. "Again, you've got to give them credit. A lot of it, too, was like you said, our own mistakes -- whether it was a penalty or negative plays. We'll have to look back on it, learn from it and bounce back."

The most demoralizing aspect of Mariota's play might not even have been his forlorn passes into the wilderness or taking more sacks than a potato factory. No, the worst part of Thursday night for Titans fans, and fans of football, was seeing the former No. 2 overall pick look lost. Repeatedly.

Time after time, Mariota didn't process the defense fast enough, missed the proper read, or refused to pull the trigger. The final drive of the game epitomized Mariota's regression.

With the Titans taking over at their own 4-yard-line following a Jags failed 4th down, Tennessee had 3:23 on the clock, no timeouts and were down 13 points. Not an enviable spot, but not impossible to overcome. Score quick and give yourself a shot at an onside kick. Urgency was required.

Instead, the Titans acted like they were prancing through a field on a midsummer eve.

The first play call of the drive was inexplicably a run for Dion Lewis. After that mind-numbing call, Mariota took a bevy of 5-yard dump-offs that made his stat line look better but got the Titans nowhere close to the end zone. The quarterback struggled to get his team lined up and get the plays off quickly, looking closer to a rookie than a fifth-year quarterback who is fighting for a new contract.

Vrabel might not have considered making a quarterback change Thursday night, but if Mariota continues to play like he did the past two weeks, Tannehill won't be listening to the play calls from the sideline much longer.

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