KANSAS CITY — In a flash, Marcus Mariota proved he's willing to tuck the ball and run with it in preseason game No. 3 here on Friday night.
He once again showed bounce-back ability after a slow start.
The Titans rookie quarterback also showed his teeth. Case in point: Mariota's sideline exchange with Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston, a three-time Pro Bowler.
We'll get more into that later.
First, the football. After a slow start, Mariota finished on a high note against the Chiefs. He guided the Titans to a touchdown drive at the end of the first half, and helped dig the team out of a 17-0 deficit to make it 17-10 at halftime, when he traded his football helmet for a baseball cap.
Mariota blamed himself for the lackluster beginning.
"It was a tough start,'' Mariota said. "That's on me. I have to be able to come out from the get-go and play a little better. But you learn from it, and it's a positive when you can finish drives and score points after being slow in the beginning."
Mariota's final passing numbers in the team's 34-10 loss to the Chiefs: 7-of-11 for 99 yards, and a 92.6 rating. He finished by completing 7 of his final 8 passes after throwing incompletions on his first three attempts.
Mariota also ran three times for 22 yards, including a 14-yard run on a read-option keeper when he raced toward the sideline for a first down. Mariota had just one carry for one yard in the first two preseason games, not including some lost yardage when he lost a fumble after getting sacked in the preseason opener at Atlanta.
In three preseason games, Mariota has now completed 19-of-27 passes for 319 yards. The Titans wrap up the preseason next Thursday against the Vikings.
Mariota didn't throw the ball much early as the Titans fell behind. He was 0-for-2 in the first quarter, and didn't complete his first pass until the 10:58 mark of the second quarter when he connected with receiver Kendall Wright.
It was a sign of things to come.
Mariota hit Wright with a beautiful 30-yard completion later on the same drive on a throw across the field, and he found Wright again in the open field. The Titans finished that drive off with a field goal, but not before Mariota showed a little spunk.
On the third-down play, Mariota was sacked on the sideline by Houston, who stood over Mariota after bringing him down. A fired up Mariota popped up and appeared to say something to Houston before the two went to their own sideline. On a following possession, Mariota and Houston appeared to have a more friendly conversation.
With a smile, Mariota downplayed the incident after the game.
"I didn't say anything really,'' Mariota said. "Me, personally, I just get frustrated taking a sack in that situation. He made a good play. Later. We talked about it and he was just saying a former teammate of mine just wanted to say hello. It was nothing more than that."
Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt and several of Mariota's teammates said they saw his competitive side come out in the exchange.
The Titans take on the Chiefs in Week 3 of the preseason in Kansas City. (Donn Jones, AP)
"I don't know what he said, but he is a competitor," Whisenhunt said. "While he may seem mild-manned on the surface, he is a fiery, competitive guy, and it was good to see him react the way he did and make some plays."
Added running back Antonio Andrews: "It's good to see a quarterback with that fire in him. He's not taking any mess. He is here because he is a competitor. When everyone sees him fight like that, it makes us want to fight even more."
Mariota, the second overall pick of the NFL draft, didn't turn the ball over for the second straight preseason game after committing two turnovers in the preseason opener.
He also got a chance to work in a two-minute situation after the Titans got possession of the football at Kansas City's 43-yard line with 2:53 left.
Mariota promptly drove the Titans 43 yards in seven plays in 2:01, and the drive was capped off by a two-yard touchdown run by Andrews.
Mariota completed five straight passes after the show start, and his finish provided yet another reason for the team to be optimistic moving forward. Wright was his favorite target – he caught three passes for 60 yards in the first half.
"We have come a long way,'' Mariota said. "Kansas City has a very good defense, and for us to be able to score points against them, it says a lot about where we have come from. A lot of it we can still improve on though. If we could have started better tonight, it would have been a better looking score."
The Titans open the regular season at Tampa Bay on September 13.