Marcus Mariota made the most of his second chance in Atlanta

ATLANTA (AP) – For Marcus Mariota, the loss of confidence was the biggest blow.

He has experienced so much success, from winning the Heisman Trophy to being the No. 2 pick in the NFL draft.

Then, for one of the few times in his life, he wasn’t good enough.

“You go through a process of looking at yourself and thinking,” Mariota recalled. “During that journey of mine, I kind of knew I had to find my confidence to be able to play at a high level. When you get your confidence taken away, it’s hard as an athlete because I think that’s really the only mental weapon you have.”

No journey of this type is ever complete, but Mariota feels he’s headed in the right direction again.

Last week, he completed 13 of 14 passes, including two for touchdowns, and ran for a score as the Atlanta Falcons stunned the San Francisco 49ers 28-14.

The Falcons (3-3), who were supposed to be in a major rebuild, are surprisingly tied with Tampa Bay atop the NFC South.

And Mariota, who only had to worry about the gap between longtime Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and whatever odds the team could make next year’s draft, is showing flashes of the form that should have carried him to NFL stardom.

He was even named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week, an honor that has been elusive in the past 2 1/2 years while riding the bench for two teams.

Mariota knows how lucky he is to even get a chance to start again in the NFL.

“I am forever grateful to this organization for giving me that chance,” he said. “Across the league, a lot of guys in my situation don’t really get a second chance.”

After a brilliant career at Oregon, Mariota was taken by the Tennessee Titans with the second pick in the 2015 draft. He immediately earned the starting job and only raised expectations by throwing four touchdown passes in his first game.

Yet even as he led Tennessee to three straight winning seasons and a playoff victory during the 2017 campaign, his passing numbers were downright ordinary.

Mariota’s running ability gave the offense a few extra weapons, but grumbling among Titans fans only grew as their heralded quarterback was unable to push the team to the next level.

Then, during a poor performance in Week 6 of the 2019 season, when he completed just 7 of 18 passes for 63 yards with two interceptions in a 16-0 loss to Denver, Titans coach Mike Vrabel decided he had seen enough.

Mariota was retired. Ryan Tannehill took over, leading Tennessee from a 2-4 start to a surprising run to the AFC Championship Game.

Mariota’s Titan career is over. He would not start another game in the NFL for 1,064 days.

“I felt like I was part of a good team, part of a good organization,” Mariota says now. “I thought if we could get the ball moving, I could be there for a long time.”

Instead, he moved to Las Vegas, where he spent two years backing up Derek Carr and playing sparingly with the Raiders.

Just when it looked like Mariota’s career might be over, he connected with his former offensive coordinator at Tennessee, Arthur Smith.

Entering his second year as Atlanta’s coach, Smith needed a quarterback. The Falcons decided to trade longtime starter Ryan to ease their salary cap woes, and they didn’t have anyone ready to step in right away.

Smith remembered Mariota’s potential and thought he could be just what his rebuilding team needed, at least in the short term.

Mariota has had a rough start, with four touchdown passes and four interceptions in the first five games, not to mention some major problems with the ball. He fumbled five times seven times, losing three.

Yet through it all, his steady demeanor won over his teammates. The quarterback job goes beyond numbers. He also has to be a leader, and Mariota fits the bill perfectly.

“That’s probably one of the coolest guys I’ve ever met in my life,” safety Jaylinn Hawkins said. “He’s a very, very humble individual and sharp in what he does. He is always calm. There is no panic in his game. He has everybody’s back.”

Smith saw Mariota’s confidence grow with each start, especially when the Falcons won a few games and kept things close in their losses. The coach saw Mariota’s demeanor affect those around him.

“These guys believe in him. Those are things you can’t put on the stat sheet,” Smith said. “He hasn’t played in 2 1/2 years, so it took a few games. It was a little rusty here and there. But I feel like in every game, he’s getting more comfortable.”

There is still a long way to go in the season. If Mariota stumbles again, he could be done in Atlanta. If that happens, this could be his last chance to prove he’s capable of starting for an NFL team.

Mariota isn’t looking too far ahead.

After all, it took me so long to get back here.


Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at


More AP NFL: and

The Latest

To Top