Marcus Mariota and the Tennessee Titans could not have started much uglier.
They sure showed they can finish.
Mariota threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Corey Davis with 36 seconds left, and the Tennessee Titans rallied from a 16-point deficit and beat the New York Jets 26-22 on Sunday.
The Titans (6-6) snapped a two-game skid to keep themselves on the fringes of the AFC playoff chase. Mariota, who had an interception returned for a touchdown in the first quarter, notched the 12th game-winning drive of his career and eighth since the start of the 2017 season.
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“Marcus isn’t going to be the guy giving pep talks,” Titans coach Mike Vrabel said of his quarterback. “He’s very calm, cool, collected. He takes control of the huddle, and you can see him in the most critical situations he’s at his best. And so that’s great to see.”
The Jets (3-9) had one last chance to snap their own losing streak, but Malcolm Butler intercepted Josh McCown’s pass with 21 seconds left to seal Tennessee’s victory and the Jets’ collapse. New York now has lost six straight with this latest loss leaving Jets coach Todd Bowles “fuming.”
“Dumb mistakes at dumb times cost us ballgames, and that’s why we’re in the position we’re in,” Bowles said.
Mariota looked nothing like the quarterback who turned in the second-best single-game performance in NFL history last week completing 95.7 percent of his passes in a loss at Houston. Home fans booed early and often as Jets cornerback Trumaine Johnson got only his second interception this season and ran it back 31 yards for an early TD and a 10-0 lead.
It was the Jets’ first takeaway after the franchise tied a league record for futility for not forcing a turnover in five straight games. The Jets also sacked Mariota three times.
Mariota threw for 220 of his 282 yards in the second half. He also led the Titans with 43 yards rushing, including a 25-yard scramble on the game-winning drive where he recovered his own fumble at the end.
“Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, and I got lucky,” Mariota said.
A facemask penalty on Johnson during the play added to the end, and Mariota hit Anthony Firkser for 25 yards. Three plays later, he found Davis who ran in for the TD and the Titans’ first lead of the game.
McCown started his third straight with Sam Darnold still limited with an injured foot, and the 39-year-old veteran threw for only 128 yards as the Titans outgained the Jets 403-280 in total offense.
New York led 22-13 on Jason Myers’ fifth and final field goal, a 39-yarder with 26 seconds left in the third quarter.
“You can’t do that,” McCown said. “You’ve got to get seven points when you’re down there, and we didn’t do that. And yeah, if you do that too much in the NFL, it will come back to get you, and it certainly did us today.”
The Titans had their chances to avoid the dramatic ending with first-and-goal on back-to-back drives in the fourth quarter only to settle for a pair of field goals by Ryan Succop. The Titans forced the Jets to punt with 1:46 left and found themselves starting at their own 14 to set up the game-winning drive.
The Jets got production from across the board on special teams. Kevin Pierre-Louis blocked a punt in the second quarter to set up Myers’ third field goal, and Henry Anderson blocked Succop’s extra-point attempt inside the final minute of the first half. Andre Roberts opened the third quarter with a 61-yard kickoff return.
The Jets were flagged 11 times for 96 yards, including three times on the Titans’ final drive with one offsetting. The Titans, who came in as the NFL’s least penalized team, had eight for 75 yards.
Jets O-lineman Spencer Long had an illness, so Dakota Dozier started at LG in his place. … Jets cornerback Morris Claiborne hurt a shoulder, but returned.
Jets: Visit Buffalo next Sunday.
Titans: Host Jacksonville on Thursday night.
Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker