JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- As Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota dressed at his locker after Sunday's game at TIAA Bank Field, one by one teammates stopped by to congratulate him.
Some patted him on the back, offering a few words. Others simply gave him a fist bump.
A few moments earlier, Titans coach Mike Vrabel had given Mariota a game ball for his performance in the team's 9-6 win over the Jaguars.
"That's just a wolf being a wolf, man," tackle Taylor Lewan said of Mariota. "I'll follow that guy anywhere."
Others fell in line once again on Sunday as Mariota came off the bench to help the Titans pull out a gutsy win.
"He's one of the toughest guys I know," center Ben Jones said. "He's a true competitor, and he would do anything for this team. I love that guy to death."
Titans receivers showered more praise on Mariota.
"Marcus stepped up huge today," said Titans receiver Corey Davis, who had a pair of big catches in the game. "He's a warrior. Hat's off to him."
"That's our quarterback, and he's our leader," added receiver Taywan Taylor, who led the team with four receptions. "And we rallied around him."
Mariota replaced an injured Blaine Gabbert in the first quarter of Sunday's game. Gabbert started the contest for the second week in a row in place of Mariota, sidelined since Week One and limited in practices because of an elbow injury.
Mariota, wearing a glove with two fingers exposed, stepped in and finished off a drive that ended with a field goal by Ryan Succop that gave the Titans an early 3-0 lead. Then he did enough – running and passing – to lift the Titans to a win.
Mariota said it was the first time he'd come off the bench in a game since he was in high school.
"I am just happy for this team," Mariota said. "The work, week in and week out these guys put in, it is nice to see it rewarded. … It is a crazy game. When it comes down to it, I am really happy for these guys. Our defense played incredible, and gave us a chance to win in the end."
Mariota completed 12-of-18 passes for 100 yards in the contest while also running for 51 yards on seven carries. His biggest run of the game came late, when he bolted for 15 yards and a first down in the closing minutes on a third down play.
"Fantastic," Vrabel said of Mariota. "It was cool for me to be able to give Marcus a game ball in the locker room, to be able to stay focused throughout the week. He cares about this team immensely and he wants what's best for the team. You saw him come in there and give us a spark. … and really seal the deal for us at the end of the game."
Mariota was active but didn't play last Sunday vs. the Texans. Gabbert got the start, and guided the Titans to a 20-17 win at Nissan Stadium. He was awarded a game ball for his performance.
Mariota didn't finish the season opener against the Dolphins after suffering the elbow injury.
Mariota acknowledged earlier in the week he still felt some numbness and tingling in his fingers as a result of the injury. Mariota said the whole hand is affected by the injury "but the numbness and the (tingling) is a couple of fingers. The weakness is the whole hand, and that is what I am working on."
But Mariota didn't let any of it bother him in the moment on Sunday. He rose to the occasion to guide the Titans to a mammoth win against a division rival.
"There is no greater feeling that winning on Sundays," Mariota said. "The process that you go through, he amount of time you put in throughout the week. It is nice to come out and get it done."
The Tennessee Titans take on the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 3 of the 2018 season on Sunday, Sept. 23, 2018 at TIAA Bank Field. (Photos: Donn Jones, AP)
The Tennessee Titans prepare to take on the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 3 of the 2018 season on Sunday, Sept. 23, 2018 at TIAA Bank Field. (Photos: Donn Jones, AP)