Titans Cruise Past Buccaneers 42-14 in Opener


TAMPA, Fla. -- It was a perfect start to the season – for the Titans, and rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota.

Mariota posted a perfect passer rating (158.3) in his NFL debut, and the Titans had no trouble taking care of the Buccaneers in an easy 42-14 win to kick off the 2015 season.

The Titans jumped out to a 21-0 lead early and never looked back while dominating on both sides of the football.

The result came on a day when the other three teams in the AFC South – the Colts, Texans and Jaguars – all lost.

It was an ideal start for sure, but tackle Taylor Lewan was quick to hit the brakes on the feel-good mood. Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt also reminded the team afterward it started 1-0 last season with a win at Kansas City before losing 14 of the final 15 games.

"We can't let it get in our heads, that's something that can't happen,'' Lewan said. "You want more confidence? Then you have to win more games. We played well, but there are so many things we need to improve on. If (reporters) say 'We're back,' I'm going to kick somebody in the knee. It's going to tick me off.

"We have so much more to do, so much more to prove...After one win, we have so much more to prove as an offense and a defense."

Only Mariota himself was stomping out the Mariota buzz afterward, however.

In his first NFL game, Mariota played like a veteran. He completed 13-of-16 for 209 yards and four touchdowns, with no interceptions. He threw touchdown passes on the team's first two possessions as the Titans took control early. Mariota became just the second player in NFL history to throw for four touchdowns in his NFL debut, joining Fran Tarkenton (1961).

Mariota's the first player ever to have a perfect passer rating in his first game.

"It means we're 1 and 0,'' Mariota said. "For me, it's taking it one day at a time and just executing to the best of my abilities. It's a good start for us, but it's the first game. We have to continue to get better and not focus on stats."

Said Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt: "Marcus, he did a nice job. He handled himself well. He ran the offense, but we had a lot of guys make plays."

It was a less than spectacular debut for Buccaneers rookie quarterback Jameis Winston, who was picked off on his first NFL pass and finished the game 16-of-33 for 210 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Winston's passer rating was 64.0 on a day when Dick LeBeau's defense harassed him throughout.

Titans linebacker Derrick Morgan sacked Winston twice, while defensive linemen Jurrell Casey and Angelo Blackson also put him on his back. The Titans forced Winston into mistakes -- Coty Sensabaugh and linebacker Deiontrez Mount both intercepted the first overall pick of the draft, with Sensabaugh returning his interception for a touchdown.

"I think we harassed him,'' Morgan said of Winston. "We did a good job of getting after him. We talked about getting after him early and often, and I think we did a good job of doing that."

Mariota, selected second overall, and Winston became the first set of rookie starting quarterbacks drafted first and second in the same draft to open the season against each other.

Mariota came out firing.

On the team's opening possession, after faking a handoff to running back Dexter McCluster, Mariota connected with Kendall Wright on a slant pattern. Wright caught the ball at the 40, and then outraced several Tampa Bay defenders to the end zone for a touchdown to give the Titans a 7-0 lead.

The Titans got a quick defensive score on Tampa Bay's first offensive possession when Sensabaugh stepped in front of a Winston pass and picked it off. Sensabaugh raced 26 yards for a touchdown to give the Titans a 14-0 lead.

It was the first interception of Sensabaugh's career.

The Titans kept it going.

After forcing a three-and-out on defense, Mariota quickly guided the Titans down the field again. After completing passes to Justin Hunter, Harry Douglas and Wright, the Titans were back in the red zone. The Titans finished off the drive with a 12-yard scoring pass from Mariota to running back Bishop Sankey, which made it 21-0 with 6:49 left in the first quarter.

Mariota finished the first quarter 6-of-9 for 130 yards, with a passer rating of 149.3.

The Buccaneers got on the scoreboard on the first play of the second quarter when Winston connected with tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins for a five-yard touchdown pass, which cut the lead to 21-7.

The Titans answered back quickly, however, and in the process put the game away.

After getting a fourth-down stop near midfield – which came after a replay challenge by coach Ken Whisenhunt – the Titans drove the ball down the field again. Mariota connected with receiver Harry Douglas for a four-yard touchdown pass to make it 28-7.

Mount then stepped up and made a big play, intercepting Winston to put the Titans in Tampa Bay territory once again. A quick six-play, 32-yard drive ended with a Mariota touchdown pass, this one to tight end Delanie Walker. It was Mariota's fourth touchdown of the half, and it made the score 35-7 at the half.

Mariota finished the first half 10-of-13 for 175 yards with a passer rating of 157.9.

The Titans made it 42-7 on a one-yard touchdown run by Sankey, who finished the game with a team-high 74 yards on 12 carries. The Buccaneers scored a fourth quarter touchdown to account for the final margin.

The Titans travel to Cleveland next Sunday to face the Browns.

"We did a lot of good things today,'' Whisenhunt said. "We still have a lot we have to clean up, a lot of things we have to work on. If we didn't learn anything from last year, well, that's on us. We have to get back to work and get ready for next week."

The Tennessee Titans take the field against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2015 season opener for both teams at Raymond James Stadium. (Photos: Donn Jones, AP)


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