NASHVILLE, Tenn. –** Quarterback Marcus Mariota continues to clear hurdles, and he continues to look good along the way.
Mariota came out firing on Saturday at Nissan Stadium, and the Titans rolled early in an eventual 34-27 win over the Panthers.
Mariota completed 6-of-8 passes for 61 yards and a touchdown – a four-yard completion to tight end Delanie Walker. The Titans led 10-0 in the first quarter when Mariota was replaced by back-up Matt Cassel. He played two series.
"It was a lot better," Mariota said. "I thought we came out fast, made a couple big plays, were able to go down and score. The defense got a huge, huge turnover. For us to go down and score after that was big. We've just got to continue to build this momentum, build the foundation and get ready for the season."
Mariota was sharp from the start. It was yet another positive sign in his return from last year's fractured fibula injury.
"The guy is poised,'' Titans tackle Taylor Lewan said of Mariota. "That guy is ready to be at the top of his game. I think he is capable of being the best quarterback in this league. That's up to him. He is one of the hardest workers on this team."
What made Saturday's performance even more impressive: Mariota worked without the team's top three receivers. Rishard Matthews (excused for personal reasons), Corey Davis (hamstring injury) and Eric Decker (ankle injury) did not play against the Panthers, which forced others into bigger roles.
On the team's first offensive play of the game, Mariota connected with rookie receiver Taywan Taylor on a 20-yard pass across the middle. On the next play, he ripped off a nine-yard run to his right.
The plays were called by winning bidders in a team auction for Make-A-Wish.
"I loved the play calls," Mariota said with a smile. "It was great input and I'm glad that they worked out. The support obviously was incredible. Just for them to donate that says a lot about who they are. I thought they were pretty good playcallers as well."
On the same drive, completions to receiver Tre McBride (for 21 yards) and tight end Jonnu Smith (six yards) put the Titans on their way, and set up a 34-yard field goal from kicker Ryan Succop to make it 3-0.
The Titans made it 10-0 after forcing a turnover. Running back Derrick Henry converted a fourth-down run, and Mariota connected with Walker in the end zone a few plays later.
"It was just a great play call by the offensive coordinator," Walker said. "Came inside, and we got the coverage we were looking for. I'm not even going to lie, the linebacker did a good job by banging me, I think it kind of messed up his DB a little bit. Marcus (Mariota) made a great throw. I caught the ball for the touchdown, but it was a great offensive performance moving the ball to get us down there in the red zone."
Mariota also played in two possessions in the team's preseason opener against the Jets, his first game back after suffered a fractured fibula in Week 16 last season. He completed 2-of-3 passes for 15 yards and also ran once for a six-yard gain in the team's 7-3 loss, and was sacked once for a seven-yard loss.
Next up: Mariota is expected to get his most extensive action of the preseason next Sunday against the Bears in preseason game No.3.
"I think we're at a good place," Mariota said. "At this point in time our main focus is just getting better every day. Today was just a result of, I think, a really good week of practice. And if we can continue that, I think our offense can be very dynamic. At the same time we can't get complacent. We can't just let today's success determine how we practice and determine what goes on for the next couple of weeks as we get ready for the season. So I think with that being said, we can take what we learned today to get better and get ourselves into an even better position."
The Tennessee Titans take on the Carolina Panthers in Week 2 of the preseason on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017 at Nissan Stadium. (Photos: Donn Jones Photography, AP)