NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The sad ending took a backseat to who wasn’t in the huddle for the start. The Titans on Sunday Night Football gave Music City all day to freak out about an early report that Marcus Mariota, injured last week against Washington, wouldn’t play.

And he was not part of the 33-17 loss to the Colts that sent Indianapolis on to the playoffs and will see the Titans disperse Monday, owners of a third consecutive 9-7 record.MarotaWatchingPlayoffs

Already without Jurrell Casey, Logan Ryan and Brian Orakpo on defense and Delanie Walker, Jonnu Smith and Jack Conklin on offense, the Titans got within 17-10 at halftime.

But Mariota would certainly have given them a better chance than Blaine Gabbert did, with two picks and 165 yards on 18 of 29 passing. The Titans converted one of nine third downs, held the ball for only 19:47 (to Indy’s 40:13) and ran just 45 plays (compared to 72).

It is remarkable how many people have simply decreed he should have played, with zero details on his injury beyond the minimal stuff on the league-mandated injury report: “neck/foot, limited, questionable.” If he could have, what possible rationale would there have been for him not to have? [Unlocked]

“I would never question Marcus’ heart,” Dennis Kelly said. “I mean look at the block he threw on Alec Ogletree at the Giants. I don’t think he’s afraid of playing football.

"We’re professionals and we have trained professionals who are taking care of us. If they said he couldn’t go, he couldn’t go. If he was able to go, he would have gone. Everyone knew he wanted to play. There was never any doubt in the locker room. ”

My Mariota belief meter is down based on his performance this season -- 11 touchdown passes and eight interceptions simply does not cut it -- and I am frustrated by his untimely injuries. But I am also smart enough to know we know nothing close to the whole story about what’s going on with his health. With the season over I’ll be digging on that in the coming days.

It’s likely time to find a better QB to go with him, because missing the finale in three out of four seasons is too hard to stomach for a team with bigger aspirations. The Titans shouldn’t take any contract plunge until they see him play successfully in 2019, when he will be playing under his fifth-year option, making $17.19 million more than he did this year.

But half of Nashville, it seems like, wants to push the guy off The John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge.

I watched Mariota walk onto the field in street clothes with the quarterbacks, and I watched him depart the locker room, and this idea some of the extremists in the Twitterverse have that he bailed on his team and has no heart or commitment to his team was not in evidence either time.

Really I loathe allowing trolls to dictate content here, but the thing is, this went far beyond them. My timeline Sunday, a long day waiting for a 7:20 p.m. kickoff was overflowing with unreasonable, unfounded claims about Mariota by some people I previously thought sane.

You’d think the guy was Rishard Matthews, who after three weeks of the season walked into Jon Robinson’s office and said he wanted out.

And while I can’t tell you exactly what went down here, I can tell you with certainty it was nothing at all like that. Odds are that it was very much just like Chris Mortensen reported it, that medical people at some level feared Mariota risked doing further damage to a nerve injury, damage that could have had a lasting impact.

Take a breath. What's more likely. He was at risk or he didn't want to play? What would make you lean to the latter?

GabbertHarriedPlayoffs

“I guarantee you, if Marcus could have played, he would have played,” Kevin Byard said. “I’m hearing there is nerve damage or something like that. That’s something you can’t really play with. You go out there and you injury it again, that’s something long-term.

“...I think anybody would be stupid to question his character and his toughness and his will to win.”

Yeah, sources told me and others after Mort’s report that they were going to work Mariota out and that they were still talking to doctors. You know what that is called? Holding out hope.

They worked him out. In the afternoon. At team headquarters. About 4.2 miles away from Nissan Stadium. You know when you work a guy out at the facility instead of the stadium? When you know he’s not playing.

I know you wanted a playoff berth more than anything and that your affection for Mariota has about disappeared.

The Titans to have a quarterback to contend with Andrew Luck and Deshaun Watson and by the end of Year 4, we should know if he’s it and we don’t and we are sick of the too-many-coordinators, not-enough-weapons excuses.

Right this instant, however, there is no solution to that.

Everyone needs to clear his or her head. Mariota needs to go get healthy. apple icon 144x144 precomposedAfter a lengthy pause, the Titans need to assess their expectations of him and to consider the free agent and draft markets for a supplement.

Before that, though, Mariota cannot head into the offseason without speaking about all this.

He’s disinclined to make himself the story if he can avoid it, but that’s tough luck.

The locker room is open to the media from 1:15 to 2 on Monday. He’s a great teammate. To be a great teammate tomorrow, he needs to spare everyone the job of answering more questions about him and do it himself.

You are not authorised to post comments.

Comments powered by CComment

Paul Midday logo 2b 2