NASHVILLE, Tenn. –** Marcus Mariota's mustache is back. He's growing it again in November to raise awareness for prostate cancer.
On Sunday, the Titans quarterback found himself in a hairy situation – down 20-17 to the Bengals in the closing minutes, and needing a clutch drive to win it.
Mariota once again came through in the clutch, and the Titans won it by a whisker, 24-20.
"Marcus, when his back is against the wall, he is like a dog," Titans tight end Delanie Walker said of Mariota. "He is going to fight. He is going to fight his way out of it. And all we can do as a unit is to make him look good, and we did that today."
For the third time this season and the seventh time in his career, Mariota guided the Titans on a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime. He also guided the Titans to late wins over the Browns and Colts earlier this season. The Browns drive came in overtime.
On Sunday, the Titans took over at their own 27-yard line with 4:57 left. Mariota engineered a 12-play drive that was capped off with a seven-yard pass to running back DeMarco Murray on third-and-goal from the seven, with 36 seconds left.
"It's him," coach Mike Mularkey said of Mariota. "It's his M.O. Nothing flusters him. After the (INT earlier in the game), he came back and made some very tight-knit throws that we needed. That's who he is."
Mariota, who completed 25-of-44 passes for 264 yards with a touchdown and an interception in the contest, said the mindset was clear when the Titans started the drive.
Moments earlier, the Bengals had taken the lead on a 70-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Andy Dalton to receiver A.J. Green.
"Just make a play," Mariota said. "Go win the game."
"And guys up front did a great job," Mariota continued. "All the skill positions made plays, made big plays, and that's all you can really ask for. And we were able to score to win."
On the game-winning drive, Mariota connected with tight end Jonnu Smith for an eight-yard completion. After a Derrick Henry run, Mariota completed passes to Eric Decker (10 yards) and Walker (20 yards). Another Henry run, a defensive holding penalty on the Bengals, and an eight-yard catch by Walker had the Titans close.
"When you have No. 8 calling the plays back there," tackle Taylor Lewan said, "you are not going to be worried at any time."
Then came a scary moment, when Mariota was tackled from behind by Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap, which injured his left shoulder, and worried Mularkey.
"But he's about as tough as he gets," Mularkey said, "and he wouldn't come out."
Said Mariota: "If I can walk, I can play. At that moment I just wanted to give our guys an opportunity to win."
After a pair of incompletions, Mariota connected with Murray for the game-winner.
"Marcus is a tremendous player," Murray said. "He makes a lot of plays. We all had confidence in him.
"He is even-keel, no matter what the situation is, no matter how the game going offensively. He has the same look on his face … and he is going to lead us the right way. He is not a guy who is going to get down on himself."
Mariota and the Titans made things tough on themselves throughout the contest. Receiver Rishard Matthews dropped a would-be touchdown pass, and receiver Corey Davis fumbled as he was headed into the end zone.
But in the end, the Titans and Mariota had the chance they wanted.
It was a nice scenario to be in, Mariota said.
"As a competitor, as an athlete, you want to make the play that helps your team win," Mariota said. "It is fun to be in those situations – obviously you don't want to be in them all the time. But it is exciting to see when it gets down close and it is go-time, guys make a play and we are able to pull it out."
The Tennessee Titans take on the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 10 at Nissan Stadium. (Photos: Donn Jones, AP)