CLEVELAND, Ohio —Marcus Mariota turned in a performance to remember in his NFL debut at Tampa Bay.
In Week Two, it looked like the rookie quarterback might guide a memorable comeback.
Because of some early mistakes, however, Sunday's 28-14 loss to the Browns will go down as one the Titans would like to forget.
The Titans fell behind 21-0 by halftime in a game when Mariota was sacked seven times, and took way too many hits.
Mariota finished the game 21-of-37 for 252 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He posted a passer rating of 96.3. But Mariota also fumbled three times, and the Titans lost two of them.
After the game, Mariota said he has to play better.
"It's a tough league," Mariota said. "Week in and week out you have to prepare and they did a good job of executing their game plan, and you just have to take your hat off to them. I have to do a better job of having two hands on the football, throwing the ball away, getting the ball out of my hands so we are not taking unnecessary sacks and losing the football."
Mariota was asked if the performance was a sobering moment following a Week One game when he became the first rookie quarterback to post a perfect passer rating in the first week of the season. In a 42-14 win over the Bucs, Mariota threw four touchdown passes and led the Titans to touchdowns in five of the seven series he played.
He was named the NFL's Offensive Player of the Week for Week One.
"You understand this is a tough league, and you can get beat any time,'' Mariota said. "We understood that going in. I could have made a lot more accurate throws, and could have been better with the football, but I'll learn that and get better and get ready for next week."
Mariota suffered an ankle injury in the contest, but said he'll be able to play next week against the Colts.
Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt praised Mariota for his toughness.
"I was incredibly impressed with how he handled himself," Whisenhunt said of Mariota. "He's a fighter. He showed a lot of poise, a lot of character in the second half. Obviously his ankle was bothering him a little bit, and he still made a lot of plays. I'm glad that we have him on our football team."
The Titans made it interesting late.
Mariota threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to tight end Anthony Fasano with 1:36 left in the third quarter to cut Cleveland's lead to 21-7. Fasano's diving catch across the middle capped an 8-play, 67-yard drive that took 4:09 off the clock.
Mariota then connected with rookie receiver Dorial Green-Beckham for a 13-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-six with 6:42 remaining to cut the lead to 21-14. It was the first catch of Green-Beckham's career. Green-Beckham went up high in the end zone to snag it, over Browns defensive back Joe Haden.
The Tennessee Titans take on the Cleveland Browns in Week 2 of the 2015 season at FirstEnergy Stadium. (Photos: Donn Jones, AP)
"I'm just trying to make plays for my teammates,'' Green-Beckham said. "I give credit to Marcus for putting that ball up there where only could get it."
But there weren't enough big moments for the Titans in this one.
Mariota was harassed all day on Sunday, as the Browns built a big lead and turned up the pressure. Mariota completed 8-of-16 passes for 71 yards, with no touchdowns and no interceptions in the first half, when he was sacked three times. His passer rating at the half was 62.2.
Mariota lost a fumble on the final play of the first quarter when he was sacked by Browns defensive lineman John Hughes III and linebacker Paul Kruger. Browns linebacker Christian Kirksey recovered the loose football.
On a day when Mariota was roughed up, this was the most memorable hit. In addition to the ball, he also lost his helmet and a shoe on a play which ended with him face down on the FirstEnergy Stadium turf.
The sight – and the game itself – wasn't something the Titans wanted to see following a near flawless performance last week in Tampa Bay.
Mariota was aiming to become one of just five rookie quarterbacks since 1970 to win their first two starts to begin a career – John Elway (1983), Ryan Leaf (1998), Joe Flacco (2008) and Mark Sanchez (2009).
The Titans play their home opener at Nissan Stadium on next Sunday against the Colts.
Titans center Brian Schwenke said the offensive line needs to do a better job of protecting Mariota moving forward.
"You don't want him hit once,'' Schwenke said of Mariota. "We have to fix that, and take pride in doing that. If we're going to win games consistently we can't have our quarterback hit consistently. It's definitely one of the things we have to improve."