ATLANTA – Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt didn't like what he saw at the start of the team's preseason opener here on Friday night.
But he liked the way his football team – and quarterback Marcus Mariota -- responded to adversity in a 31-24 loss to the Falcons.
Mariota, making his NFL debut, was intercepted and lost a fumble in the first quarter as the Titans fell behind. But he finished the game 7-of-8 for 94 yards and led an 80-yard scoring drive by the time his night was over.
The Titans fell behind 17-0 early, but rallied to tie the game in the second half before the Falcons scored late to win it.
"We made more than our share of mistakes tonight, which was tough,'' Whisenhunt said. "But I like the way we fought back, battled back...It was a good game from the standpoint of being able to evaluate some of our players. We can correct these mistakes and move forward.
"It was good to see Marcus bounce back and finish the way he did, too. It's great to have a game under our belts and be able to evaluate some of our players and move forward."
Mariota, the team's second overall pick, got off to a tough start. He was picked off by Falcons linebacker Justin Durant on a screen pass intended for running back Bishop Sankey, and that led to an Atlanta field goal.
On the team's next series, Mariota lost the handle on the football, and the loose ball was picked up by Falcons linebacker Paul Worrilow and returned for a 14-yard touchdown, which made it 17-0. The Falcons drove down the field for a touchdown on their opening drive.
Mariota guided a 10-play, 86-yard touchdown drive that was capped off by a six-yard touchdown run from Dexter McCluster before he was relieved by back-up Zach Mettenberger after 18 plays.
"There were some ups and downs,'' Mariota said, "but I think as an offense, it was good that we went through some adversity and fought back."
Titans tackle Taylor Lewan didn't seem fazed by the start.
"He's a pro,'' Lewan said of Mariota. "He is a hell of a football player and he is going to continue to be a hell of a football player. And he is going to do great things for this team. He threw a pick, it bounced into the guy's hands."
Mettenberger played well in relief of Mariota. He completed 8-of-11 passes for 129 yards and a touchdown, but he was intercepted on a pass intended for receiver Justin Hunter. Mettenberger blamed himself for the thrown. His touchdown pass went to receiver Rico Richardson, who got behind the Atlanta defense and scored on a 30-yard toss to cut the lead to 17-13.
After the Falcons made it 24-13 on a short touchdown run, the Titans cut it to 24-21 in a one-yard touchdown run by running back Antonio Andrews, who also plowed his way in on the ensuing two-point conversion.
A 28-yard Ryan Succop field goal made it 24-24 after three quarters before the Falcons added a fourth quarter score.
Afterward, the Titans agreed they need to improve across the board. The 17-0 hole they found themselves in early shouldn't happen, players agreed. There were missed tackles and mistakes, and Lewan said the offensive line needs to play better.
"We have a lot of things we need to clean up,'' defensive lineman Jurrell Casey said. "We have to be able to get up the field and get pressure on the quarterback. As a whole defense, that first drive is not what we wanted. We have to do a better job of coming out and starting faster.
"We have to get in the film room and make the corrections, and we have to get out there on the practice field throughout this week and try to eliminate those bad things."