ATLANTA --In the days leading up to his NFL preseason debut, Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota said the experience would be a dream come true.
The rookie never envisioned the nightmarish start, but he didn't leave here disappointed.
"It was an incredible experience to say the least,'' Mariota said. "To be able to step on the field with the Titans organization, that's special, and I enjoyed every moment of it. There's some things we can learn from and get better from, but at the same time I was able to enjoy the moment and I'm looking forward to next week."
Mariota, the second overall pick of the NFL draft, dealt with some turbulence in his first game as a pro.
But he ended up settling in and finished on a high note.
Mariota went 7-of-8 for 94 yards in Friday's 31-24 loss to the Falcons, with a passer rating of 76.0. Mariota's night included an interception on his third pass of the night. He also lost a fumble and was sacked once.
Mariota showed some spunk in the way he bounced back, however, which offered reason for optimism moving forward.
Mariota guided a 10-play, 86-yard touchdown drive that was capped off by a six-yard touchdown run from Dexter McCluster after the Titans fell behind 17-0 early.
He made some impressive throws on the drive, including a pair of 17-yard completions to receiver Harry Douglas and a 26-yard completion to running back Antonio Andrews.
The Titans kick off their 2015 preseason against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome. (Donn JOnes Photography, AP Photos)
Mariota completed his final five passes of the night before giving way to back-up Zach Mettenberger in the second quarter.
"There were some ups and downs, but I think as an offense, it was good that we went through some adversity and fought back,'' Mariota said. "I'm proud of what we have, but I think we can always get better. I'm looking forward to next week."
Mariota's first play as a pro – a handoff to running back Bishop Sankey.
His first throw – a 12-yard completion to Douglas.
Things got a little messy on the opening drive, however, when Mariota was picked off by Falcons linebacker Justin Durant a screen pass intended for Sankey, which led to an Atlanta field goal.
On the team's next series, Mariota lost the handle on the football, fumbling it, and the loose ball was picked up by Falcons linebacker Paul Worrilow and returned for a 14-yard touchdown.
After the rocky start, the Titans were encouraged by Mariota's response, and the team's ability to respond to adversity.
"I could tell he was (ticked) because of the situation, not really anything that was out of control,'' coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "But you like that, the competitor in him...I am not concerned about Marcus, you can tell he doesn't get flustered."
Teammates also said Mariota's ability to respond to adversity "tells a lot."
"He is a gamer,'' Douglas said of Mariota. "He is one of those guys who is calm, and you want that out off a player. Marcus is level-headed, so he knows how to handle situations."
Said receiver Kendall Wright: "Marcus found a way to calm himself down. No one said anything to him. And once he got into a groove I think he did pretty good."
The blunders also didn't erase the progress he made during the first few weeks in training camp either. In 11 training camp practices, Mariota has thrown 176 passes without an interception.
Overall, it was a learning experience for Mariota.
The game couldn't arrive fast enough.
Mariota took the first team bus to the Georgia Dome, arriving over three hours prior to kickoff. He walked in with Beats headphones, looking relaxed, and ready to go.
He was also one of the first players to take the field in warm-ups, throwing to receivers roughly 2 ½ hours before the game.
When he took the field again roughly 50 minutes before the game, he was greeted by a few cheers from Titans fans in attendance, as well as some fans decked out in Oregon uniforms. His parents also made the trip from Hawaii.
Mariota will make his Nissan Stadium debut next Sunday when the Titans face the Rams. Finishing Friday night with a score will give the first-team offense something to build on, Mariota said. The young QB also kicked himself "because you lose games because of turnovers" and he blamed himself for the mistakes.
"Battling through some adversity is going to make us a better team,'' Mariota said. "For us as an offense to be able to go through that, it will only make us better. We look forward to next week and we'll do a better job of taking care of the football."