NASHVILLE, Tenn. —Titans interim coach Mike Mularkey addressed reporters today to discuss the team's 34-28 overtime win over the Saints, and to also look ahead to this Sunday's game against the Panthers.
Here's a look at six big topics from the presser:
Protecting the QB**
Quarterback Marcus Mariota had been sacked 19 times in his first five NFL starts. In the team's last time out before Sunday, back-up quarterback Zach Mettenberger was sacked seven times vs. the Texans.
Against the Saints, however, Mariota wasn't sacked. It was the first time all season a Titans quarterback wasn't sacked in a game.
Mularkey said it was "a group of things that made a difference," but acknowledged the personnel changes had a lot to do with the success. Joe Looney started at left guard, while Byron Bell started at right tackle. Bell played left guard in the first seven games, and it was Looney's first start at guard.
Jeremiah Poutasi has been working at guard in practices, and that will continue, Mularkey said.
"We knew we had to do something different,'' Mularkey said of protection.
Mularkey said Mariota's quick release "also had a lot to do with what happened yesterday." Mularkey said the Titans also changed some things from a philosophical standpoint.
"Plus, (Marcus) also realizes, and we've told him, 'Don't take sacks. Get rid of the ball,' Mularkey said. "He's been told that, "We'll take a second and 10 if we have to."
Following Sunday's game, Mularkey got emotional.
He teared up on the field, in the locker room when speaking to the team, and even when meeting with reporters.
The events of a week which saw him step in for Ken Whisenhunt contributed to the build-up of emotions
On Monday, Mularkey also recalled his two previous head coaching debuts that didn't turn out so well. In 2004, when Mularkey took over in Buffalo, the Bills lost to the Jaguars when Byron Leftwich hit Ernest Wilford for a touchdown pass as time expired.
In 2012 with the Jaguars, the Vikings rallied to win against Jacksonville.
"I'm not usually like that,'' Mularkey said of his emotions, "but I haven't been in a lot of games like (Sunday's). I've been a head coach twice before and both my first games as a head coach, I've lost -- the first one on the last play of the game and the second one in overtime.
"So I've been in some close games like that, and to be on the positive side of it, and with the situation our team, our organization, was in, it just magnified the emotion. I was just really proud of our guys."
The game-winning play on Sunday was a five-yard touchdown pass from Mariota to tight end Anthony Fasano in overtime.
Mularkey had seen the play before – when he coached the Jaguars, and Fasano was with the Dolphins.
"I've seen that ball sailing in the air to Fasano -- I just happened to be the head coach of the Jaguars when that ball went to him with the Dolphins," Mularkey said. "It was the exact same play. I actually (spoke to Fasano) because I wanted to put that play in, this was about a month ago. It was not a good feeling (in 2012), but it was a great feeling yesterday, to be on the winning end."
While with the Dolphins, Fasano scored on a 2-yard touchdown against the Jaguars in 2012. The Titans put the play in four weeks ago, Mularkey said.
"…We ran that play on Friday,'' Mularkey said, "and I told (offensive coordinator) Jason (Michael), "If we get the ball on the five-yard, that's a touchdown."
Catching a break
Mariota admitted after the game he was trying to throw the ball away when two Saints defenders deflected a pass intended for tight end Delanie Walker downfield.
Neither was able to bring it in, and Walker plucked the ball out of the air and raced 61 yards for a touchdown. It turned a 14-3 game into a 14-10 game, and gave the Titans a big spark.
"We haven't had a lot of those,'' Mularkey said. "I've seen a lot of them against us, but I haven't seen a lot go our way. The sideline was never in a "doom and gloom" at any point, but that certainly was a boost to the sideline."
TitansOnline.com looks back at the debut of Titans interim head coach Mike Mularkey at New Orleans. (Photos: Donn Jones, AP)
Mularkey gave the players off on Monday after the team snapped a six-game losing streak.
Next up, the Titans face the Panthers.
Mularkey is hoping Sunday's win will change the fate moving forward.
"It was really big for the organization, that win,'' he said. " I think we all needed something positive, and the players really deserve it…It's good for them.
"The players played with great effort, and with the physical nature we want to have here…We've now shown that we can win if we do things in specific ways – if they practice the way we practice, if we rallied together like we did. We need that."
Mularkey gave an injury update at his afternoon presser.
-- Linebacker Derrick Morgan "got dinged in the shoulder', per Mularkey, but he doesn't expect him to miss time.
-- Receiver Kendall Wright (knee) is improving, but his status for Sunday won't be known until later in the week.
-- Cornerback Jason McCourty is getting a second opinion on his injured groin.
-- Running back Dexter McCluster has a mild ankle sprain, and could be limited in practices.
-- The Titans hope to get cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson (hamstring) back at practice this week.
-- Cornerback Perrish Cox is "day to day" with his hamstring injury.