NASHVILLE, Tenn. —Titans rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota has faced plenty of challenges in his first NFL season.
On Sunday, he'll face defensive mastermind Bill Belichick and the Patriots for the first time.
"It is going to be a great opportunity for this entire team,'' Mariota said after practice on Wednesday. "The New England Patriots are a very good football team, and they have been a good team for a while now. It will be a good challenge, and we are looking forward to it."
The Patriots (11-2) are ranked 6th in the NFL in total defense. They're the defending Super Bowl champs, with a head coach in Belichick who has built his reputation by frustrating quarterbacks young and old.
Mariota, set to make his 12th NFL start, knows all about him.
He doesn't necessarily know what to expect, however.
"I am sure he is going to game plan something,'' Mariota said. "But we have to do our best to handle that, and identify with what is going on, and try and use our plays and use that as a mismatch and hopefully execute better.
"… We just have to trust our preparation … and do our best to handle (things)."
Mariota leads NFL rookies in passer rating (91.9) and touchdown passes (19). With three games to play, he's seven touchdown passes away from the all-time rookie record for touchdown passes (26), shared by Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson.
He's completed 62.4 percent of his passes on the season.
In a 30-8 loss to the Jets on Sunday, Mariota completed 21-of-39 passes for 274 yards, with an interception and a passer rating of 65.5.
Belichick said he's been impressed with Mariota, who has also racked up 252 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
"The offense he's running is definitely not the offense he ran in college, so there's no question about that. But I think he's done a good job," Belichick said. "He's hitting a lot of passes, hasn't turned the ball over a lot, has had his share of touchdown passes, makes his share of big plays, reads coverages. I think you see him throwing the ball to the right spot.
"I don't know exactly what he's being told to do but generally speaking it looks like he's throwing the ball to the right spot, throwing it where he should be throwing it. I think he's coming along well. I'm sure they have a lot of confidence in him and he's shown toughness coming back from an injury and taking some hits and all like every quarterback does. He's done a good job for them."