The NFL gifted this game to the fans. The 2015 NFL Draft’s top two selections, quarterbacks Jameis Winston (Florida State University, no. 1 overall selection) and his Tampa Bay Buccaneers against the Tennessee Titans, led by Marcus Mariota (University of Oregon, no. 2 overall selection). The game ended in a surprising route which saw Tennessee depart Tampa, Florida with a 42-14 victory, and it may have been more convincing than the scoreline indicated.
Mariota exited the contest after the third quarter with the game well in-hand, finishing with an explosive and efficient line of 13-16 for 209 yards and a rookie record-equaling 4 touchdown passes. Winston could only watch in horror as his adversary racked up those stats on his home field, as Winston was just 16-33 for 210 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 2 ugly interceptions. Mariota looked calm and poised in the pocket all day long, delivering darts all over the field. Winston on the other hand appeared confused and flustered, while making throws befitting of some of the leagues worst quarterbacks. It’s very early in the game in these QB’s’ development, but one has to believe the Buccaneers staff may be second-guessing their decision to select Winston over Mariota in last Aprils draft.
The week 1 contest was dominated by the no. 1 and no. 2 selected quarterbacks narrative leading up to it, and it did not disappoint. Leading up to the draft, Winston of course was the talented, but troubled off the field signal caller hailing from Florida. Mariota was the squeaky clean kid from Hawaii whos only concerns were the fact that he played in a spread offense under now-Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly at Oregon. Two of the NFL’s new young stars still have plenty of time to figure out whether they will sink or swim in the NFL, but Mariota certainly looks much more pro-ready than Winston to this point.
Jameis Winston was lacking his number 1 weapon in this game as second-year wideout Mike Evans was on the shelf due to injury, while Winston had a full compliment of weapons in Kendall Wright, Harry Douglas, and Delanie Walker at his disposal. The divisions each play in, NFC South for Winston, AFC South for Mariota shouldn’t pose much difficulty in terms of their ascendancy to those crowns, but Mariota does have to battle the brightest young quarterbacking star in the NFL twice a year in the Indianapolis Colts’ Andrew Luck. Fans of either team should consider themselves lucky for being able to follow this budding rivalry for the next ten years or so.
The schedule stays soft for Mariota’s Titans as they play the hapless Cleveland Browns next week in another matchup that the young QB should thrive in. Will Mariota’s rookie season be a dream campaign similar to that of Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton, or will it quickly turn to disappoint a la Peyton Mannings rookie campaign? Only time will tell, but todays effort and results would suggest the former.