NASHVILLE, Tenn. –** The Titans' offense wasn't exactly clicking on all cylinders when quarterback Marcus Mariota and company took the field with just over five minutes left in Sunday's game.
Six previous second-half possessions for the Titans had produced five punts, one turnover and zero points.
The offense's struggles were the primary reason the Titans found themselves trailing Cincinnati 20-17 as they readied for what very well might have been their final drive of the game.
So Mariota delivered a very simple message to his teammates:
"He just came in the huddle and said, `This is it. It's on us. We've got to help our defense out,'" Titans tight end Delanie Walker said. "When we got on that field, we all said it. We're going to go down and score, and we did that."
The Titans did indeed, marching 68 yards in 12 plays for the game-winning touchdown and taking all but 36 seconds off the clock along the way.
It was an impressive display of producing under pressure, but it's hardly the first time we've seen that from Mariota this season.
In fact, it's become increasingly clear over the past month that Mariota has the ability to raise the level of his game – and by extension that of the entire offense – when situations are at their most desperate.
He's produced three game-winning drives in the Titans' last four games, tying him for first in that category among NFL quarterbacks this season. Mariota had only notched two game-winning drives in each of his first two years.
"He just gets the job done," Titans tackle Taylor Lewan said. "I can't say enough about him. The guy's a winner. At the end of the day, that's what the golden remedy is, a guy that loves to be successful and is a team guy. He's never going to take that spotlight even though he's always in it."
A quick recap of Mariota's magical last month:
With the Titans and Indianapolis tied at 22 in the fourth quarter, Mariota stepped up and threw a 53-yard touchdown pass to Taywan Taylor, which would prove to be the winning points in that contest.
With the Titans and Cleveland tied 9-9 in overtime, Mariota guided the Titans into position for a game-winning field goal, completing a key third-and-three pass to Rishard Matthews to keep the drive alive.
Mariota didn't orchestrate a game-winning drive against Baltimore two Sundays ago, but he did lead the Titans to a vital fourth-quarter touchdown. After the Ravens had trimmed the Titans' lead to 16-13, Mariota marched the team 75 yards in nine plays to all but seal the contest.
Then came Sunday's game, one in which Mariota had been good but not great leading up until the final drive. He came up with some big tosses in the closing moments, though, hitting Eric Decker for a 10-yard gain, Delanie Walker for 20 yards and then connecting with DeMarco Murray – his third read on that play – for the game-winning, seven-yard touchdown pass.
"I love watching him – it's remarkable," Titans linebacker Brian Orakpo said. "I would hate playing against Marcus. The guy will frustrate you and frustrate you as a defender. I'm just glad he's on our side."
There are at least a few reasons why Mariota seems to operate so well when the situation most calls for it.
One is his ultra-steady demeanor, which means he doesn't melt down when facing late-game challenges.
"He's just so even-keeled, not too high or low," Titans wide receiver Rishard Matthews said. "He's a guy that likes to perform when the lights are on, whenever the pressure is there. He wants to make the calls and make the plays that need to be made, lead us down there and get us in the right position. He takes that challenge pretty well."
Another factor is Mariota's ability to move past anything negative that's occurred earlier in the game.
Against Baltimore for instance, Mariota launched the Titans' game-clinching drive just moments after he threw an interception to Eric Weddle. Against Cincinnati, Mariota threw a first-half interception that led to a Bengals touchdown, but was still slinging away effectively on the fourth-quarter drive.
"He just doesn't get flustered with anything," Titans coach Mike Mularkey said following a practice last week. "He doesn't let a bad play, a bad series – things like that – affect him. I wish I could tell you why, but he just kind of has that mentality.
"The nice part is we all know that about him, and we have a lot of confidence that when we get back in there and get ready for the next series, there's no concerns of what already happened."
In addition to pointing out his mental toughness, we should note his physical resilience his well.
A gimpy Mariota led the Titans to the wins over the Colts and Browns despite playing with a hamstring that was clearly still bothering him.
On Sunday, he took a punishing hit after scrambling five yards for a first down on that final drive. Mariota was slow to get to his feet, but three plays later hit Murray for the final touchdown. Seconds after making that game-winning throw, it was Mariota who was helping a Cincinnati defender – that had just clobbered Mariota – to his feet.
"If I can walk, I can play," Mariota said. "Especially in that moment, I just wanted to give our guys an opportunity to win."
Interestingly enough, some of Mariota's overall stats are down from a year ago, when he threw for 26 touchdowns and was intercepted nine times, posting a 95.6 quarterback rating. Through eight games this season, he's thrown seven touchdowns and six interceptions, with a quarterback rating that's dropped about 10 points.
But Mariota is doing what needs to be done when the Titans most need it, which is why the number that's most important to him – the team's win total – is on the rise.
-- Reach John Glennon at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @glennonsports.
The Tennessee Titans take on the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 10 at Nissan Stadium. (Photos: Donn Jones, AP)