NASHVILLE – Marcus Mariota has plenty of things to feel good about.
The Titans quarterback is coming off his best game of the season, his receivers are gaining momentum, and his Pro Bowl left tackle is back to protect him.
Yet Mariota isn't floating. He's staying grounded again this week because he's been around long enough to know in a week to week league, he'll have to perform well again Sunday to keep the positive vibes going.
And the challenge is a big one – the Buffalo Bills and their No.2 ranked defense are headed to town.
"Quite frankly, they're a really good defense," Mariota said of the Bills. "They've got a bunch of underrated players. I think they've got guys on every single level of the defense that are great players, and you can tell just with their effort and how they play, they take pride in it. Honestly, we have a lot of work cut out for us. It's going to be on us to execute, but we know we have a challenge in front of us."
Mariota's stats look great – he's thrown for 933 yards and seven touchdowns through the first four games, with no interceptions. His passer rating of 106.2 is 7th best in the NFL, and he's the only quarterback in the NFL to start every game in 2019 and have no giveways.
On Wednesday, however, Mariota was kicking himself for his fumbles the Titans nearly lost – he got away with one against the Falcons.
And he knows the offense needs to be more consistent. On some Sundays (and especially on a Thursday night) this fall, things haven't look so great on offense.
"Honestly, I don't think about a whole lot of stats," Mariota said. "I just do my best to execute. I do know the turnover margin is a huge indication how well your team does. If I can take care of the football and give our guys chances and opportunities to make plays, it'll give us chances and opportunities to score points and win games."
Mariota is paying attention to his offensive line.
Left tackle Taylor Lewan is back in the fold after missing the first four games because of a suspension. Rookie Nate Davis played well at right guard in his NFL debut against the Falcons while being used in a rotation, and he's edging closer to an increased role.
After being sacked 17 times in the first three games, Mariota wasn't sacked once against the Falcons this past Sunday.
There's reason to believe things will settle down for the Titans up front, other than the fact the Bills have a swarming defense that makes life difficult on opposing quarterbacks. Just ask Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who threw for just 150 yards with a passer rating of 45.9 in New England's ugly 16-10 win over Buffalo on Sunday.
"Any time you bring back a Pro Bowl type player, that's going to help, no doubt," Mariota said of Lewan. "I think when you bring that type of player into the offense with some juice and excitement, it's going to kind of carry that over to other guys as well."
"I thought he played great, especially for his first action," Mariota said of Davis. "He seemed composed."
Mariota also liked what he saw on Sunday from receivers Corey Davis and A.J. Brown.
Davis had five catches for 91 yards and a touchdown against the Falcons, while Brown had three catches for 94 yards and two scores.
"When those guys get the ball in their hands, they can do a lot of good things for us," Mariota said of Davis and Brown. "It's on us as quarterbacks to distribute and allow our guys to go make plays, because that's really the expectation for them."
Heading into the second quarter of the season, Mariota and the offense hope to pick up where they left off on Sunday in Atlanta.
Mariota has posted a 90-plus rating in four of his last five games dating back to last season, although he struggled himself against the Bills last season in a 13-12 loss in Buffalo. Mariota threw for just 129 yards with an interception in that Week 5 game, with a 51.6 rating, although the game is perhaps best remembered because of a costly drop by one of his receivers as he headed into the end zone, wide open.
A new chapter in Week 5 kicks off Sunday, with another opportunity to build on success.
"I feel like if we can stay on track on first and second down, we get a better opportunity to sustain drives by being at third-and-manageable," Mariota said when looking ahead. "So, that's been a focal point for these first few weeks. Last week, was a little better, but I can still improve on it. That's what's cool about this game is no matter what, you can always improve."
The Tennessee Titans practice on Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019 at Saint Thomas Sports Park. (Photos: Donald Page)