The Los Angeles Chargers and Tennessee Titans made sure the second of this year’s London games kept fans glued to their seats right to the last second, unlike the previous week, when the Seattle Seahawks calmy steamrolled the Oakland Raiders.
The Titans weren’t great, but they controlled the time of possession keeping the Chargers’ explosive passing offense off the field, a technique often used by NFL teams to limit the other teams scoring opportunities.
The Chargers still led throughout the game after a couple of big passing players – from the explosive offense mentioned above – and held on right at the death after Titans head coach Mike Vrabel choose to go for the win over a kick to tie the game – a gutsy call when your job is on the line.
What became evident as the game progressed was the decline of Marcus Mariota, the Nashville-based team’s quarterback. The Hawaiian-born passer was a dynamic dual-threat player who just when you thought the passing play was falling apart would duck and dive his way to a 30-yard run.
Entering the league, Mariota came from the University of Oregon where he broke records and led the Ducks to a National Championship game and won the Heisman trophy, presented to the best player in college football. Mariota was chosen second overall in the 2015 draft just a few weeks after his award-winning season and packed his bags for Nashville.
In Mariota’s first year his abilities were utilised, he was a nightmare to plan against. Every time you stopped him passing the ball he would use his legs to punish teams, and if they committed men to stop him running he found the spaces with the pass, but watching him at Wembley it was evident that he has lost the spark that made him a joy to watch.
Yes, his stats haven’t shown much decline – although he has thrown more interceptions – the impressive escapability he presented week in week out seems to have disappeared. The Titans looked like a team playing in mud, they had heavy feet, the play calling was devoid of any passion, and you cannot blame the quarterback for that.
Tennessee have their third offensive coordinator in the four years that Mariota has been in the NFL and each of those will have their own philosophy and style of play not to mention playbook that the play caller will have had to learn. When you consider that each coordinator may have upwards of 200 plays it is almost understandable that Mariota is lost in a swirl of new styles and game plans.
If the Titans and new head coach Mike Vrabel are to succeed they need to help Mariota rediscover his charismatic, exciting play. This is a player who can and has beaten teams on his own, Mariota plays a similar style to Cam Newton who led the Carolina Panthers to a three-touchdown comeback hours after the Wembley game. If the Titans are to win this season, they need to let Mariota play his game and to do that they have to take the shackles off and let him run.
Elsewhere in the league, Drew Brees continued his ascent to the Hall of Fame, becoming only the fourth quarterback to throw 500 touchdown passes as the New Orleans Saints beat the Baltimore Ravens by a single point.
The Cleveland Browns lost another heartbreaker after yet another overtime game, and the Kansas City Chiefs bounced back from last week’s loss with a commanding win over Cincinnati Bengals. Houston Texans look resurgent after losing the first three games as they have won four in a row.
As previously mentioned Cam Newton led the Carolina Panthers from 17-nil down in the fourth quarter to a 21-17 win over last year’s Super Bowl winning Philadelphia Eagles. The LA Rams continued their unbeaten start – their best since 1985 – as they piled on the points in a 38-10 win against an injury-ravaged San Francisco 49ers.
The Chicago Bears will rue the dropped passes as they lost to the New England Patriots by a single yard, yes a yard after a last minute hail mary pass was thrown and caught at the one-yard line with time running out.